Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves wanted to shake up his struggling offense, so he switched around his centers before this weekend's series with Alaska-Anchorage. Would it work was the big question and the answer came in the form of a 5-2 win over the Seawolves. The 20th ranked Badgers improve to 10-8-5 overall and 7-5-5 in WCHA play after the win.
The Badgers now sit just 5 points out of 1st place in the WCHA, something fans and coaches thought would be where this team should be to start the year, but results told everyone it wouldn't start out that way.
“I would have hoped it," Eaves stated. "Believed it? From where we were it would have been tough to.”
Michael Mersch, who teamed up with Mark Zengerle and Joseph LaBate on the new 1st line, had himself one of the best efforts of his season - scoring 2 goals and notching an assist for a 3 point night. However, the bigger story was the effort of the entire 2nd line of Tyler Barnes, Derek Lee, and Nic Kerdiles which combined to put in 2 goals and add 4 assists.
Overall six Badgers had multiple-point nights, including Mark Zengerle who sits on 99 career points following his goal and assist on Friday night. That's the kind of production that Mike Eaves can deal with on a consistent basis to say the least.
“Yes. We got the result we had hoped for by making some changes," said Eaves following the game. "We stimulated some offense and got some goals for both units. That was our sole reason for doing that. Our hope is that we can build on what we started tonight.”
Eaves and Badger fans got their 1st clue of the new changes working just 1:21 into the 1st period on Friday night as the 2nd line of Kerdiles, Lee, and Tyler Barnes began their shift with an all out assault on the net that ended with Nic Kerdiles punching home his own rebound in front of the net to put the Badgers up 1-0.
It was the 3rd goal of the season for the standout freshman. Assists on the goal went to Derek Lee and John Ramage. That line was no where near done leaving it's mark on the game, but first they had to play a little defense too.
Nearly 6 minutes later a fluke bounce off of a Badger defenders stick led to a bad goal that tied up the game 1-1. Credit for the the goal went to Blake Tatchell, the 5th of the season for the Freshman.
However, that was about the only positive for the Seawolves in the 1st period as the Badgers offense showed a lot of life and worked the puck well all period long. That offensive zone puck work paid off for them at the 15:13 mark of the period as Tyler Barnes netted his 5th goal of the season to put the Badgers up 2-1. Assisting on the goal were linemates Lee and Kerdiles.
Just how good did the #Badgers have it in the 1st period? They outshot the Seawolves 14-3.
Things only continued to get better for the Badgers in the 2nd period as clue number two that something was different would be more evident. Wisconsin came in with a 7 game streak of not scoring on their power play and were just 6-66 on the year (dead last in the WCHA, 2nd to last in NCAA hockey) and things continued to look anemic in their 1st opportunity of the game early in the 2nd period.
However, just over 2 minutes after the 1st power-play expired it was another chance and thanks to Michael Mersch the Badgers finally got back to scoring goals on the power play.
It was Mersch's 14th of the season as he slammed home a nice one on a wide-open net at the 9:04 mark of the 2nd period. Assisting on the goal were Mark Zengerle and Jake McCabe.
The game began to really tilt to the Badgers liking following that goal and just over 6 minutes later it was another wide-open back door goal that made the game 4-1 in favor of Wisconsin.
Michael Mersch was involved in this one as he slapped a beautiful pass from the left side of the ice at the blue line to a wide-open Mark Zengerle who was sitting on the back door, who pounded home the opportunity at the 15:22 mark of the period.
"That pass (Mersch) gave me—he’s (Mersch). I think my mom could’ve put that in," said Zengerle. "That was a nice dish, and I just had to tap it in pretty much. But other than that, we felt a lot better I think."
Zenergle scored for the 1st time since Oct. 27th with that goal and if he can continue to score this team can really become an offensive force.
"When we talk about Mark (Zengerle) scoring goals that solves a lot of problems," said Eaves. "His contribution offensively stimulates a lot of things, power plays and how well that unit works together. It’s important that he gets on that score sheet.”
Mersch's amazing night continued into the 3rd period as he netted his 2nd power-play goal of the game and his 15th goal of the season to put the Badgers up 5-1 at at the 5:01 mark of the 3rd period. It was the 1st game this year that Wisconsin scored more than one power-play goal and the Badgers ended the night 2-3 with the extra man advantage.
The tricky part of a game like this where there's not much happening in front of Rumpel is that concentration can be tricky from time to time and unfortunately it cost him as Scott Allen made it 5-2 on his 9th of the season for the Seawolves. Jordan Kwas and Blake Tatchell were credited with the assists on the goal. However, it was too little too late as UAA used the last part of the period to just attempt to minimize the damage.
Wisconsin finished the game outshooting the Seawolves 37-14 and allowed no more than 7 shots in any period during the game. Picking up the win in net was Joel Rumpel who improved to 6-6-3 between the pipes this year after stopping 12 of 14 shots in the win.
After Friday night's results it's pretty clear that a combination of the change and a terrible Alaska-Anchorage defense was just what the doctor ordered. The Badgers will close out the series tomorrow night at 8pm Central looking to extend their WCHA unbeaten streak to ten if they can win. The game can once again be seen on Fox Sports Wisconsin+.