Weekend Recap: Badgers Split with #1 North Dakota

Wow. Usually, when covering Badger hockey for SST, I try to be a journalist first and a fan second. But I hope you’ll excuse me for this one paragraph. So with that being said, wow. What a weekend for Wisconsin Men’s hockey.

Coming off a sweep of first-year program Arizona State, this weekend’s trip to Sioux Falls was really just supposed to be a litmus test; a chance to see how this young team would stand up against the best team in the nation. Even North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said admitted that they overlooked the Badgers coming into the weekend. Easily put, that won’t be a problem other teams will have in the future. The Badgers came out firing from the first faceoff on Friday night, and kept the pressure on despite falling behind 1-0 seven and a half minutes into the first, courtesy of a goal by UND’s Luke Johnson. UW outshot the #1 team in the nation 12-8 in the first period, and that pressure yielded results when sophomore Corbin McGuire tied the game just over three minutes later. Tied at one after the first intermission, the Badgers took control. Freshman Luke Kunin converted on helpers from Grant Besse and Cameron Hughes just thirty-seven seconds to give UW the lead, and there was no looking back from there. Jedd Soleway added a goal nine minutes later, and freshman goalie Matt Jurusik made 29 saves as the Badgers held on to beat #1 North Dakota. Head coach Mike Eaves called it a “signature win,” and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Friday night saw the Badgers’ biggest win in years, and it also saw the potential that this team has in it.

Saturday night UW had an opportunity to go for a rare sweep of a #1 team. After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, Grant Besse continued his campaign for Big Ten POTY with a goal at 10:24 in the second. The Badgers were unable to find the net again, and Jurusik’s 35 saves were not enough to pull off the sweep, as North Dakota earned a 3-1 win and a series split.

Three Stars

Third Star: Guess who? Grant Besse has dominated this section of the column since the season began, but it’s impossible to deny that he has led this team to its early (relative) success. His assist on Friday and goal on Saturday provided much needed sparks for the offense, and gives him ten points on the season. His leadership is invaluable as the Badgers look to build on this weekend.

Second Star: Luke Kunin is on an absolute tear. His goal on Friday night gave UW the lead, and would ultimately be the decider in the Badgers’ biggest win in years. The freshman has seven points already this season, and should be one of the first names mentioned for Freshman of the Year in the Big Ten.

First Star: Matt Jurusik is certainly the Badgers’ goalie of the future, and it appears that future may be starting earlier than expected. He made 29 saves on Friday night in a huge win over the #1 team in the country, followed up by thirty-five saves in a valiant loss. Jurusik has been ridiculous of late, and the fact that he can play at such a high level against an opponent of this caliber bodes very well for the upcoming conference season. Fans should be excited to see what the rest of the season holds for number thirty.

This Week: Off

No games this weekend for the Badgers, who do not play again until a date with Denver University at the Kohl Center on November 20th and 21st. That should give fans plenty of time to revel in Friday night’s win, and to get excited about the potential that this team has moving forward. Cautious optimism is encouraged. For the first time in a little while, it is an exciting time to be a Badger hockey fan.

Image via Nick Nelson for the Grank Forks Herald.