Irish split series against Badgers, take first loss of season
Jack Concannon | Monday, November 18, 2019
After an impressive home sweep of Ohio State, the Irish paid a visit to Madison, Wisconsin, for a two-game set against a Big Ten foe in the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers (6-6, 1-3 Big Ten) entered the series 0-2 in Big Ten play, but earning points on the road is always difficult and the Badgers have an extremely talented roster despite being swept the first weekend.
The Irish (8-1-1, 4-1-1 Big Ten) had a bit of a letdown Friday night. The Badgers stifled the Irish offensively, taking away the top line and clogging the lanes for Irish offense. The Irish mustered just 22 shots on goal and conceded a goal in each period, including two on the power play. Irish head coach Jeff Jackson was not pleased with his team’s intensity in the first game of the series.
“Friday night, I didn’t think we played with enough intensity. For a team as talented and skilled as Wisconsin was, I thought we didn’t play them aggressively enough,” Jackson said. “It certainly showed in the outcome of the game. Watching film and discussing with our guys, the intensity level needed to be higher.”
The Irish came out much faster on Saturday. The Irish got their first goal of the series just 34 seconds into the game from freshman forward Trevor Janicke. After being shut out the night before, starting early was critical for the Irish. Jackson believed the Irish brought much better drive in the second game.
“Saturday, we did a much better job in that area. Regardless of how we won the game, we played a much better game from a physical intensity aspect,” Jackson said. “We were a bit sloppy with the puck leading to odd-man rush situations, but other than that I was very pleased with the effort on Saturday.”
The Irish got another goal in the first period from sophomore forward Cam Burke on a powerful play in front of the net to clean up a mess and put the puck in the net. It was yet another goal from the Irish bottom-six forwards that have been scoring so often as of late. Jackson believes the team’s depth at forward has been a key thus far.
“It’s been huge for us. We’re getting production from everybody. … Last weekend, it was [junior forward] Pierce Crawford scoring a big goal; Cam Burke scored a goal this weekend. That line has been playing better in the last few games, which really helps us. The [sophomore forward Jake] Pivonka line has been productive, all three guys have had an impact,” Jackson said. “The challenge is our top line is getting so much attention, they are getting shut down. The last few goals on Saturday were both goals from guys who had not scored in a while in [junior forward Colin] Theisen and [sophomore forward] Alex Steeves. We had three of our four lines productive, and top line defended well because they were constantly playing against the other team’s top line.”
In addition to this contribution from some unsung heroes, senior Cale Morris continued to be the rock the Irish need in net. It was not a great statistical weekend for the Irish net minder, but he made some extremely timely saves that don’t translate into save percentage and goals against average the way they do on the scoreboard.
Morris kept the Irish in both games, coming up with key saves as the teams played high-speed, high-shot hockey. On Saturday in particular, he was forced to come up with several athletic saves on odd-man rushes to get the win. Jackson had high praise for his goaltender.
“I thought he was outstanding both nights. He saved our bacon even more so Saturday night. We would not have had a chance to win if he had not made some big saves. We gave up too many odd-man rushes, and he was the difference in those situations,” Jackson said. “Even though he gave up four goals, he probably stopped another 10. I thought he was outstanding and gave us a chance to win that game.”
After taking that 2-1 lead, the Badgers responded quickly to tie the game. This would become a trend, as the Irish took a 3-2 lead in the second period only to forfeit that advantage as well. The Badgers’ only lead was 4-3, but Theisen’s clutch goal made it 4-4 in the third period.
In overtime, another bottom-six goal earned an extra point in the standings for the Irish. Nate Clurman made an impressive defensive play on the Irish end to clear the puck off the Irish goal line after a breakaway. Just a minute later, Alex Steeves twisted around the top of the slot and fired a seeing-eye puck through traffic to ensure the victory. Jackson was happy with his team’s resiliency in the second game.
“We got shut out the night before, so getting off to a good start was crucial,” Jackson said. “We had the lead three or four times and we kept giving it up. They took the lead in the third, but it was the same thing we have been seeing all season long in terms of resiliency and being able to come back after they took the lead. To win it in overtime made it that much more rewarding.”