MADISON, Wis. -- One man’s continued grind was a microcosm of a team’s season-long battle.
“I’ve had opportunities this season,” Tyler Barnes said. “I haven’t been able to close on them.
“I knew to just keep working hard, bear down and eventually they’d start coming,” Barnes said. “We’re really getting some quality chances and I think that’s where it stems from.”
Unable to finish out a number of close games and letting leads slip from them early on in the season, the Badgers--like Barnes-- have since learned to close things out.
Barnes and the Badgers left no doubt on Sunday night inside the Kohl Center, as the Eagan, Minn., native put together a four-point game and led Wisconsin (14-10-7, 11-7-7 WCHA) to a 5-0 shutout win over Penn State (12-14-0).
“I think more than anything if he can have that feeling of confidence from the inside out and have that momentum going that could be real valuable thing for him, and us,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said.
The junior forward scored his eighth goal of the season and recorded three assists to bring his point total to 19 on the season. Meanwhile, the Badgers improved their record over the last 20 games to 13-3-4, after they started 1-7-3 through the first two months of the season.
The first period served as a bit of a feeling out period, as the game marked the first-ever meeting between Wisconsin and new NCAA Division I hockey program Penn State.
“You could feel the energy that they were playing with,” Barnes said. “You have to give them credit for how they came out. I really could see this developing into something that becomes a good rivalry.”
The two teams, each set to join the new Big Ten hockey conference next season, ended the first period recording six shots on goal.
“We just could’ve been better, just could’ve been sharper,” John Ramage (St. Louis) said of the first period. “It starts with having a week off, but you always want more from yourself and the team and that’s what we did in the second and third periods and showed what we are capable of.
“We really took it to them.”
Over the final 40 minutes, the Badgers established a pace and tempo that forced the Nittany Lions back into their defensive zone and kept them there, wracking up 45 shots and ending the night with a season-high 51 shots.
On senior night, team captain John Ramage (St. Louis) set the tone, scoring 1:26 into the second period, recording his sixth goal of the season and 12th of his career to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead. Barnes and Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) each recorded assists.
Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) ended a five-game scoring drought at the 16:05 mark of the second period, as he jabbed at a puck in front of net and that bounced past P.J. Musico in the Penn State net for the score. Barnes earned his second assist of the night, while Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) was also credited with an assist.
The 17th goal on the season for Mersch, as the junior forward moved into a tie for fourth place in goal scoring in the WCHA. Going 2-for-7 against Penn State, Wisconsin’s power play has now scored 11 goals on the season, with Mersch accounting for six.
Nic Kerdiles extended Wisconsin’s lead to 3-0 at the 10:20 mark of the third period, punching a loose puck past Musico. Barnes recorded his third assist on the night, while Zengerle dished out his second.
Barnes put the finishing touches on his four-point night in the third period at the 15:17 mark of the period. Having just checked out of the penalty box, Barnes was found wide open behind the defensive zone on a long feed from Keegan Meuer (Madison, Wis.). Barnes came down on the breakaway, deked Musico, then scored backhand to give Wisconsin a 4-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, Brendan Woods (Yorba Linda, Calif.) scored his fourth goal of the season, on the power play, and put the finishing touches on Wisconsin’s 5-0 shutout win at the 16:51 mark of the period.
Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) earned his seventh-career shutout, as the sophomore recorded 22 saves on the night to mark his eighth win of the season (8-7-4).
“It starts with [Joel Rumpel] on the back end, good goaltending and playing good defense as a whole and you build from there,” Eaves said. “Tonight we were able to put together five goals, which we haven’t done a lot this season.
“Other teams talk about us and say we’re hard to play against,” Eaves said. “When we get into the playoffs, we play a pretty stingy game. We don’t give up a lot and that’s to our benefit.”
Wisconsin looks to continue in building its postseason resume, finishing the series with Penn State tomorrow at the Kohl Center. Opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (CT). The game can be viewed live on BTN.
Wisconsin Athletic Communications Department
Pictures courtesy of Badger247 Photographer Elliott Connor
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