MINNEAPOLIS — Asked earlier this week to identify the primary strength of his club, University of Wisconsin men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves thought for a moment before answering.
“Just based on knowing them — I mean, this isn’t even a hockey thing — but I think they’re resilient,” he said. “There’s no quit in our kids.”
Eaves may have a point, but there are times when resiliency can get swallowed up by reality, which is what happened Saturday night when UW absorbed a 3-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association loss to third-ranked Minnesota at Mariucci Arena.
The Badgers were trying to follow up a 2-2 overtime draw in the series opener Friday night with another productive outing, but a feeble offense and too many mistakes down the stretch could not be overcome before an announced crowd of 10,187.
“We took ourselves completely out of it,” said UW junior left winger and assistant captain Ryan Little, who used the word “embarrassing” to describe the showing.
“Took a couple dumb penalties. Didn’t do the things we wanted to do. A lot of bad habits and details out there. It showed.”
The Badgers (1-5-2 overall, 1-3-2 in league play) turned in another strong night killing penalties against an elite power play — collecting a shorthanded goal and going 5-for-5 — but it was hardly enough.
Little provided the lone goal and sophomore Joel Rumpel was credited with 25 saves, but UW managed but 17 shots, including one on four power plays where it clearly felt the absence of injured junior center and top playmaker Mark Zengerle.
“Our power play was anemic; we missed him,” Eaves said.
“We were in our defensive zone the whole time,” Little said. “It’s pretty tough to generate shots when you’re playing in your own zone.”
As if the Badgers haven’t had enough tough luck — the NCAA suspension to freshman winger Nic Kerdiles, the sudden resignation of assistant coach Bill Butters and the broken finger suffered by Zengerle — more came in the postgame dressing room involving a guy who didn’t even play.
Freshman defenseman Eddie Wittchow apparently suffered a cut loading equipment bags in the bus. When he returned to the dressing room he fainted on the way to the trainer’s room and suffered another laceration that required stitches.
One night after killing off two major penalties against the most productive power play in the WCHA, the Badgers got another boost from their short-handed unit in the opening period.
Sophomore center Brendan Woods, a part-timer on the penalty kill, orchestrated an odd-man rush with Little riding shotgun on his left. Woods waited long enough for goaltender Adam Wilcox (16 saves) to commit before giving Little a feed that he punched home at 16 minutes, 24 seconds.
“He did all the work,” Little said of Woods. “He put the thing on my stick. All I had to do is have two hands and have a pulse and the thing went in itself.”
Little came into the night as one of eight UW forwards without a goal on the season, but his first gave him 10 for his career and two have come here against the Gophers.
Minnesota (7-2-2, 4-2-2) answered at 7:14 of the second when center Nick Bjugstad hummed a slapper from the right circle that beat Rumpel nearside. The chance was set up when right winger Christian Isackson pounced on a turnover in the neutral zone by sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe.
The Gophers took the lead for good 5:59 into the session when center Tom Serratore beat a screened Rumpel with a wrist shot from the left circle. Serratore took a set-up feed from center Erik Haula a heartbeat after Haula eluded what would have been a thundering check at the blue line by UW senior defenseman and captain John Ramage.
A string of three consecutive penalties to open the third made a comeback difficult for UW. Ramage set the tone with a needless roughing infraction 20 seconds into the session.
“The penalties really did hurt us,” he said.
“We needed that time to create offense,” Eaves said.
The Badgers had a power play and Rumpel pulled for an extra attacker with 1:28 remaining, but that opportunity evaporated when junior defenseman Frankie Simonelli took a penalty.
“We have to be better,” Rumpel said.
Wisconsin 1 0 0 — 1
Minnesota 0 1 2 — 3
First period: W — R. Little 1 (Woods, Simonelli), 16:24 (sh). Penalties: Ambroz, M, 9:00; Faust, W, 9:00; Bjugstad, M, 12:37; Isackson, M (double minor), 12:37; Dahl, W (double minor), 12:37; McCabe, W, 12:37; Drake, W, 14:42.
Second period: M — Bjugstad 6 (Isackson, M. Reilly), 7:14. Penalties: Ramage, W, :20; Holl, M, 3:01; Schmidt, M, 4:28; Ambroz, M, 16:03.
Third period: M — Serratore 2 (Haula, Budish), 5:59; Rau 5 (Bjugstad, Helgeson), 19:36 (en). Penalties: Faust, W, 7:26; McCabe, W, 10:30; LaBate, W, 14:23; Schmidt, M, 18:32; Simonelli, W, 18:47.
Saves: W (Rumpel 10-5-10) 25; M (Wilcox 6-5-5) 16.
Power plays: W 0-for-4; M 0-for-5. Att. — 10,187.