GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A subtle, but significant milestone came to life for Landon Peterson on Saturday night and the sophomore goaltender for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team tried to maximize.
For the first time in his 25-game career, Peterson was tabbed to work both ends of a weekend series, a clear sign his profile has risen in the eyes of UW coach Mike Eaves as it relates to a marquee puck-stopping rotation that also includes sophomore Joel Rumpel.
But the opportunity will not be a fond memory for Peterson, or anyone from the Badgers for that matter, after they endured a resounding 4-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association loss to seventh-ranked North Dakota before a sellout crowd of 11,962 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UW was trying to extend its unbeaten streak in league play to 12 games and push its roots deep into the first division, but awful special teams totally ruined the moment and it fell in league play for the first time in 68 days.
“It was just an old-fashioned butt-kicking,” Eaves said.
One night after dueling to a 1-1 overtime draw that made them 7-0-4 in WCHA games dating back to Nov. 30, the Badgers allowed two power-play goals in the opening period and pushed their streak of futility with the man-advantage on the road to noxious depths.
An 0-for-5 showing on the power play — its 19th game this season without a conversion — left UW 0-for-its-last-37 on the road and 1-for-39 on enemy rinks overall.
The setback meant the 19th-ranked Badgers (11-9-6 overall, 8-6-6 with 22 points in the WCHA) fell out of a tie for fourth place and into sole possession of sixth place.
“We just didn’t come out to play right from the start,” UW senior defenseman and captain John Ramage said. “Plain and simple. That’s it.”
How do you explain that, especially given the volatile nature of the WCHA where eight points separate the top seven teams, a cluster that includes third-place North Dakota (14-8-6, 9-5-6, 24 points)?
“You just can’t explain it,” Ramage said. “Just didn’t come out to play.”
Junior center Mark Zengerle accounted for the lone goal for the Badgers, who took 16 penalties for 56 minutes and put North Dakota on the power play eight times.
A gloomy night was made worse midway through the third when sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe was helped from the ice to the dressing room with an injury to his right ankle.
Eaves said Peterson, who came into the night 3-0-2 on the road this season, earned the second straight start and played well en route to 25 saves.
“He deserved to play back-to-back and we didn’t give him much help in the first two periods,” Eaves said after his club lost on the road for the first time since Nov. 17.
“We just didn’t come out like we wanted to,” Peterson said. “We didn’t respond.”
The Badgers have done a great job of getting the lead and establishing the tempo during their unbeaten run through the league, but for the second straight night they dug themselves a hole while short-handed.
North Dakota went on the power play in the opening minute and center Mark MacMillan, stationed at the edge of the crease, rerouted a drive from the left point by left winger Rocco Grimaldi at 45 seconds.
But unlike the series opener, when UW scored on the ensuing shift, there was no push back.
The last time UW trailed by more than a goal was 17 games ago — a 4-2 loss to Minnesota State-Mankato on Nov. 24 — but that soon became its reality.
North Dakota was on the power play again when defenseman Joe Gleason slipped to the backdoor at the right post and banged a perfect feed from center Corban Knight past Peterson at 13:24 of the first.
North Dakota right winger Michael Parks scored two goals in the second to put things away, leaving the Badgers to regroup for the first time in quite a while.
“I don’t know if we took them a little too lightly or what, but when you dig yourself a 2-0 hole in the first couple minutes that’s tough to come back from,” UW senior left winger Ryan Little said.
Wisconsin 0 0 1 — 1
North Dakota 2 2 0 — 4
First period: ND — Ma. MacMillan 9 (Grimaldi, Schmaltz), :45 (pp); Gleason 4 (Knight, Kristio), 13:24 (pp). Penalties: Simonelli, W, :30; MacWilliam, ND, :51; R. Little, W, 11:48; Wittchow, W, 16:01.
Second period: ND — Parks 4 (Rowney), 8:17; Parks 5 (Rowney, Grimaldi), 16:18. Penalties: Parks, ND, 5:26; Woods, W, 8:17; Senkbeil, ND, 11:06; Rodwell, ND, 19:48.
Third period: W — Zengerle 5 (LaBate, Kerdiles), 13:30. Penalties: Wittchow, W, 3:43; Knight, ND, 6:24; LaBate, W, 6:24; LaBate, W, 10:09; Ramage, W, 13:53; Faust, W, 16:41; Rodwell, ND, 19:01; Senkbeil, ND (double minor, 10-minute misconduct), 19:01; Pattyn, ND (10-minute misconduct), 19:01; Wittchow, W (double minor, 10-minute misconduct), 19:01; S. Little, W (double minor, 10-minute misconduct), 19:01; Mersch, W (10-minute misconduct), 19:01.
Saves: W (Peterson 11-8-6) 25; ND (Gothberg 4-11-6) 21.
Power plays: W 0-for-5; ND 2-for-8. Att. – 11,962.