It had been almost six years since the Wisconsin men's hockey team won in Grand Forks. Few, if any, would have given his year's group a chance to end that drought—let alone do it against a No. 1-ranked North Dakota squad—and yet here we are.
The Badgers (3-4-3) engineered arguably college hockey's biggest upset of the season on Friday night, handing top-ranked UND its first loss of the season, 3-1, before settling for a series split.
"It gives us some juice," head coach Mike Eaves said. "To have that signature win really could be something special for this group as we move forward."
Freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik was certainly special versus UND. He was under constant siege, especially on Saturday, and stopped 64-of-68 shots (.941). The La Grange, Ill., native has settled into the starting role nicely since taking over during the Boston trip and boasts a .947 save percentage in his last five starts.
He wasn't the only rookie to step up, though. After some mid-week hoopla, not only was he still wearing a Wisconsin sweater, but freshman forward Luke Kunin notched the game-winning goal on Friday. The Badgers' top line is clicking right now, combining for four points (2+2) against UND. The trio of Kunin, sophomore forward Cameron Hughes and junior forward Grant Besse (who is riding a seven-game point streak) has amassed 17 points in six games since being put together prior to the Ferris State series.
While Eaves was "disappointed" with Saturday's 3-1 loss, the series was a big step forward for his young team. As Chris Dilks put it in this week's College Hockey Recap, Friday's win showed "there is at least hope for the occasional bit of joy if you're still following the Badgers at this point."
"This is fun, to be able to compete at a high level, and we're starting to get back to that level of play," Eaves said. "Our mission from a hockey standpoint is to play 'championship hockey' because if you do that, you get back to where you want to be."
"This weekend was a significant step for us in getting back to that level of playing championship hockey," he added. "Now we have to do that game in, game out so we can be where we want to be at the end of the year."
Now allow me to rain on the parade a little bit. Friday's win is a great building block, but until Wisconsin's possession improves wins against good teams will still feel like miracles. Their team Corsi-for (49.8 percent) is much-improved this year, but that number dips dramatically when they aren't beating up on the Arizona States of the world. North Dakota almost doubled UW up on shot attempts, 146-74 (33.6 percent), this weekend, which continued the trend Boston College and Boston University started a few weeks ago.
Wisconsin has a Corsi-for of 35.2 percent in four games against top-20-ranked teams this season,
Overall, though, the Badgers' possession stats are reason for optimism. This team is getting better and is playing well against the teams it should be—evidenced by its 58.1 percent Corsi-for in games against Northern Michigan, Ferris State, and Arizona State. If that keeps up, more wins should follow as the team learns how to turn solid efforts into victories.
Let's put that sentiment through the Mike Eaves Metaphor Generator (patent pending):
"This group of loose carbons maybe is coming into a diamond a little bit with a little bit more time here," he said.
Up Next: Bye Week
Wisconsin is off this weekend. The Badgers return to face former WCHA foe Denver, Nov. 20-21, at the Kohl Center. The Pioneers (5-3-0) are currently ranked No. 8 in the country.