Friday night marked not only the first top-ten matchup at the Kohl Center since 2010, but also a huge test for the Badgers. Wisconsin (6-3-0, 1-1 B1G) came into the weekend ranked 7th in the nation after splitting a home series against a previously winless St. Lawrence team. Meanwhile, North Dakota (5-2-1), and their large contingency of fans, marched into Madison with the 4th place ranking.
The Badgers only took two penalties the entire night, and it still turned out to be too many. Tim Davison’s third-period tripping penalty, and North Dakota’s subsequent power play goal turned out to be the difference maker.
The Badgers opened the scoring in the first on a far wrist shot by junior Matthew Freytag. Coming across the blue line Freytag was able to snap one through North Dakota goalie Peter Thome.
Just 42 seconds later, North Dakota’s Collin Adams sent one over the shoulder of Kyle Hayton to even up the game. The shift after scoring tends to be one of the most vulnerable defensively, and the Badgers proved that cliche to be true here.
Later in the first Freytag was able to tally his second of the night. Tarek Baker’s drive to the net causing a scrum in front resulted with the goalie down on the puck on Freytag’s stick. Freytag was able to lift it over the outstretched pad of Thome to again give the Badgers the lead.
At the end of one, North Dakota was dominating everywhere but the scoreboard. Outshooting the Badgers 10-4 was not enough to carry a lead into the second.
“I though early in the game they got to their game quicker than we did,” head coach Tony Granato said. “I know we had the lead after the first period but I think they felt pretty good on their first period on the road.”
The one goal difference would be negated less than 90 seconds into the second period. North Dakota captain Austin Poganski was able to put home a rebound off the rush to even the contest at two.
Midway through the second, a strong Badger push was countered with North Dakota creating some chances of their own. With 20 shots on goal midway through the game, Kyle Hayton has had been stellar.
Both teams had chances in the second, but only North Dakota was able to capitalize with their lone goal. The Fighting Hawks took a 23-18 lead in shots on goal heading into the third.
With 11:32 left in the third, North Dakota’s Hayden Shaw took a crucial interference penalty. Thome was forced to make several huge saves to not only stop a strong Badger power play from retaking the lead, but allowing North Dakota to receive a power play of their own.
Less than a minute in that North Dakota aforementioned power play, Nick Jones would grab the lead for the Fighting Hawks with a tip in front of the net.
The Badgers provided a strong late push, but it was not enough to get the equalizer past Thome. The North Dakota goalie stood on his head after the first period, recording 34 saves in the final two frames.
“He made a couple good saves, but as a team we have to take his eyes away and not let him see those pucks come through,” Senior captain Cameron Hughes said. “I think as a team we know we can do that better tomorrow.”
These teams square off again tomorrow, 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center to see if the Badgers can force a series split.