Badgers’ youth exposed by Fighting Sioux

first_imgThe Wisconsin men’s hockey team wasn’t expected to lead to the nation in scoring and get off to a hot 6-2-2 start this season.They were expected to perform like an inexperienced group and work through some tough times early on.Those growing pains finally came this weekend as North Dakota swept the Badgers at the Kohl Center.“We talked to the kids after the game. Our record is 3-3-2 in the league, 6-4-2 overall. If somebody said that that would be our record now, we would have said ‘we’d take that with this young group’,” head coach Mike Eaves said after the game Saturday. “We’re going through some growing pains right now, so this is what I thought we would see even earlier, so I’m not truly surprised by this.”Simply put, Wisconsin’s youth was exposed throughout the weekend. Against an experienced, deep UND squad, the Badgers were frustrated offensively and their lack of maturity surfaced.The main issue in Friday’s 1-0 loss was UW’s inability to stick with their game plan in the offensive zone. The Badgers have been successful creating scoring chances this season due to their strong forecheck and ability to work the puck down low.But with only nine shots through two periods, UW strayed from that plan. Players seemingly tried to work through the UND defense themselves and it cost them.“You could definitely see that the guys were getting frustrated out there and trying to do things on their own,” captain Sean Dolan said.“We started to go outside the box in terms of how we wanted to play as a team, and as a result you end up getting individualistic and you’re not going to find the answers there,” Eaves said. “And that’s not to be unexpected with a young team. Those are lessons that an older team has under its belt, and it’s one we hope we can apply.”The Fighting Sioux continued to play their game and a 12-shot third period eventually led to the game-winning goal. UW’s “individualistic” offense led to just 16 total shots.Game two provided another learning experience after another losing effort.Eaves hinted that the Badgers’ confidence took a hit after the humbling loss Friday as once again, his team mustered just 16 shots.“Because of the way we lost last night, we lost some confidence. It seemed to me that we were on our heels rather than on our toes,” Eaves said.North Dakota dictated the flow of the game from the start. The Fighting Sioux were the first ones to loose pucks, they were stronger along the boards and as a result, they dominated offensively tallying 43 shots and earning a 4-2 victory.Junior defenseman and assistant captain Jake Gardiner believed the effort was there Saturday, but his team didn’t show the fight, or the composure necessary to take down a team like UND.“It’s not so much the effort, it’s the heart I think,” Gardiner said. “Coach Eaves always thrives on that, and we didn’t give it. We didn’t do the little things right in the first two periods, and that caused the loss to hurt I think.“Little details in the third – not so smart penalties – we can’t do that.”Those senseless penalties became a major storyline at the end of Saturday’s game. The Badgers took three penalties in the third period, but Craig Smith’s delay of game minor did the most damage.After UND took a 2-1 lead just over six minutes into the final period, Smith knocked the net off its moorings with UW attempting to mount a comeback two minutes later. UND defenseman Ben Blood was holding the puck behind his own net and Smith, one of UW’s assistant captains, inexplicably shoved the net into Blood.North Dakota capitalized by extending the lead seconds later.After going unbeaten in their first four WCHA games, this sweep at the hands of UND sent a message to the Badgers.It’s a long, demanding season and UW got its first taste of how difficult this conference can be.“It’s a big-time reality check for such a young team. We haven’t really gone through this yet this year,” said sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz. “I’m more disappointed than surprised. Coming out here, we were on a hot streak. We wanted to continue that against North Dakota, but we’ll go back to work this week and get ready for Duluth.”last_img