For No. 16 Wisconsin (5-6-2 WCHA, 9-7-3 overall), the first two and a half minutes of play against Bemidji State (4-8-1, 5-9-1) could not have gone much worse Friday night.
The Beavers scored two goals—on their first two shots of the night— in the opening minutes, as the youthful Badgers continued a season-long trend of starting a step slow. Still, UW got the first of two goals from sophomore center Craig Smith at the 12:16 mark of the first and tacked on a goal in each of the next two periods to earn a 3-2 victory in front of 11,358 spectators at the Kohl Center.
"Let's call a spade a spade," Badger head coach Mike Eaves said. "That was probably a disappointing a start as we've had this year."
Despite the win and two conference points, Eaves said he is considering changing the team's pregame routine to combat the sluggish starts, and might draw from other coaches for inspiration.
"When we were in Finland, there was a Russian coach that had his guys play two-on-two in the corners to make sure his team was ready," Eaves said. "I've never seen that before but I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that we may have to try that with this group."
The Badgers tied the game just after the mid-point of the second period when senior forward Podge Turnbull took a break-out pass and, with a defender in front of him, fired a wrister at the net. The puck took a strange hop and handcuffed junior Beavers goaltender Dan Bakala, skipping by him and into the net.
"I'm not sure if it hit the guy's stick or if I just kind of muffined one in there, but it went in and that's the important thing," Turnbull said.
Smith added the game-winner at the tail end of a five-minute power play early in the third period. Junior Bemidji forward Shea Walters earned an ejection along with the penalty for checking sophomore Badger defenseman Justin Schultz into the boards.
"It's a good sign when your team battles back," Smith said. "But it's not good when you're putting yourself in a hole right away."
Both of Smith's goals Friday came with a man-advantage and the team finished two-for-five on the night, improving their conversion rate to a WCHA-best 30.0 percent. The Badgers have scored a power play goal in 16 of 19 games this season, but have struggled to produce offense in even-strength play.
Between the slow start and power play-reliant offense, Friday's game continued multiple trends that have plagued UW through the first half of the season, but ended with the Badgers earning their first one-goal victory of the year.
"It was a frustrating night as a coach," Eaves said. "But you know what, we won a game where we played ugly. We'll put that in the bank, come back tomorrow and hopefully be better."
Let's hope Bucky can keep it rolling. GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!