MADISON — The Wisconsin Badgers had a lot to prove Saturday night after a less than inspiring performance Friday night against the Northern Michigan Wildcats.
It was a completely different look for the Badgers hockey team, as the team took the ice with the same hunger Northern Michigan brought the night before. Wisconsin won the game by a final score of 2-0, scoring twice on the power play, and controlling play from start to finish.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s big shutout win over Northern Michigan.
1. Defense and goaltending back on track
The Badgers were far more sound defensively tonight, allowing a total of 22 shots, all saved by freshman goalie Jack Berry in his first career start. The back check was stronger than it was Friday night, limiting the rush chances for the Wildcats, and the Wisconsin defense did a better job of clearing pucks as well as getting pucks deep in the Northern Michigan zone. The biggest player for the Badgers on the back end though was goalie Jack Berry.
“I didn’t really sleep last night,” Berry said after the game.
Coach Granato let Berry know he would be getting the start after the game on Friday night. The young goaltender, playing on the biggest stage so far in his career, didn’t look like a guy going on little sleep. He went out there and held down the goal crease from start to finish.
Granato applauded the simplicity of Berry’s play saying, “He was square…Everything that came near the net he absorbed.”
Berry allowed few rebounds which helped keep the shot count low and ultimately led to his first career shutout as a Badger. After an outstanding performance by Berry, Granato anticipates that “He’ll [Berry] probably be in there when we get going again.”
2. Special teams come up big
Special teams also looked strong tonight for the Badgers. The Wisconsin penalty killers were successful all four times they were on the ice, and the power play added two goals on five chances with the man advantage. Northern Michigan got a total of four shots on goal in their six and a half minutes of power play time, but Jack Berry was there each time to keep the Wildcats off the board. Luke Kunin scored the first Wisconsin goal at 18:21 in the second period with a snipe from the top of the left circle.
“Whenever you score first, it gives your team a bit of a boost,” said Kunin after the game, as the Badgers never trailed.
Cameron Hughes also scored on the power play 1:05 to go third, which all but sealed the victory for the Badgers. Both Kunin and Hughes finished the night with a goal and an assist.
3. Fourth line puts on a clinic
The fourth line for the Badgers was also impressive Saturday night. Jarod Zirbel was arguably the best forward on the ice and was certainly the hardest working. Zirbel, Matthew Freytag and Aidan Cavallini combined for eight total shots to the net, and kept sustained pressure in the offensive zone all night. They drew the penalty that led to the Kunin goal late in the second period, and moved the puck well in the offensive zone.
“Zirbel, Freytag and Cavallini, they were outstanding,” said Granato after the game, “A lot of positive energy they created throughout the game. Our bench was fired up for them.”
The Badgers are a far more dangerous team when they can get all four lines rolling, and with the impressive play by the fourth line, it looks like they will be able to do so more moving forward.
The Badgers now have two weeks to rest up and practice before they open up a home series against Merrimack.
3rd Star: Jarod Zirbel (strong play all over the ice)
2nd Star: Luke Kunin (1G, 1A, GWG)
1st Star: Jack Berry (22 Saves, Shutout)