Wisconsin's resiliency was not enough to get it into the win column against Ferris State, as the Badgers men's hockey team (0-3-3) remained winless on the season after a tie, 5-5, and loss, 2-1, in Big Rapids, Mich., over the weekend.
The team's never-say-die attitude has emerged as a theme in the early weeks of the season. Wisconsin got a last-minute equalizer from sophomore defenseman Tim Davison and then gave the Bulldogs all they could handle in a hard-fought loss in the series finale.
"It speaks to the character of this group," head coach Mike Eaves said. "They're young kids and they don't give up."
The next step for these young Badgers will be to turn those positive showings into victories.
Despite being out-shot, 71-58, they had their chances to seize the momentum in both games, but were not able to capture it—coughing up a 4-2 third period lead in the opener and conceding the game-wining goal on Saturday just moments after freshman forward Luke Kunin had tied the score.
Putting games away is something young teams have to learn, but Eaves is encouraged by the growth his group is showing and the chances it is creating, even if the Badgers haven't yet reaped the rewards of those efforts.
"We are a faster team and we have a higher level of skill compared to last year," Eaves said
"If we're getting the chances, the goals will come," he added. "When you're getting those chances, that's what you're looking for for the big picture. Those chances will start going in and we'll get those wins that we're looking for."
Freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik, who started back-to-back games for the first time in his career, had his fair share of rookie moments, but put together a solid weekend overall. He finished with a .901 save percentage and turned away 37 of 39 (.949) shots on Saturday night, including a couple of breakaways and other big stops that kept Wisconsin in the game.
"There were plays that he'd like to have back," Eaves said of Jurusik, "but, overall, for being a freshman, he played outstanding at times. We need to build on those moments."
Up next: Friday, Oct.30, and Saturday, Oct. 31, vs. Arizona State (1-4-0)
The Sun Devils, who are in the first season as a Div. I program, visit the Kohl Center this weekend as the Badgers seek their first win of the season. Arizona State is playing a mixed schedule schedule as it makes the transition from club to Div. I, and already has one win over a Div. I opponent to its name—a 2-1 triumph over Alaska on Oct. 10.
"They're an older team and they're a gritty team," Eaves said. "They'll work their fannies off."
The NHL's expansion to the west coast helped plant the seeds of hockey's growth in the desert and Eaves sees the potential for further development now that the AHL has moved some of its franchises to the area. The influx of hockey to that part of the country helped make ASU hockey a reality and now that the Sun Devils have gotten college hockey's foot in the door, Eaves believes others might soon follow.
"It's a door that could swing open here," he said. "It will elevate the interest in the game and that could be another catalyst for colleges looking at it. People are going to talk about it more because there's hockey out there."