Sometimes it takes a while before words of wisdom sink in and truly take effect.
Sometimes their impact is instantaneous.
One night after Wisconsin hockey coach Mike Eaves gathered his players for a heart-to-heart talk and scrawled “It’s time to figure it out” on a whiteboard in the dressing room, the best possible result came to life.
UW ended its nine-game season-opening winless streak with a 5-3 victory against Ferris State on Saturday.
|BREAKING THE ICE|
|Northern Michigan||0-2||Oct. 17|
|Northern Michigan||1-4||Oct. 18|
|North Dakota||3-4||Nov. 7|
|North Dakota||1-5||Nov. 8|
|Colorado College||2-5||Nov. 21|
|Ferris State||5-2*||Nov. 29|
|*First win of the 2013-14 season|
Some heralded a 1-1 overtime draw in the non-conference series opener Friday night as a sign that the Badgers were making progress, but Eaves was having none of it. He thought the overall performance, outside of a brilliant showing by senior goaltender Joel Rumpel, was sorely lacking in multiple areas. That gave way to a prolonged postgame meeting in which coaches and players shared their thoughts.
“It was just a matter of kind of looking inside ourselves and figuring out, ‘Do we want to compete for a national championship or are we satisfied with losing?’ ” UW freshman defenseman Jack Dougherty said. “I guess we got the right answer tonight.”
The Badgers (1-8-1 overall) gave away a third-period lead, but found a way to avoid setting a school record for the longest winless streak.
“It was something that needed to be done,” Eaves said. “If we don’t have that talk, we’re fooling ourselves.
“It was an honest talk and that’s the way you’re going to grow — by being honest with each other.”
Dougherty got the winning goal via the power play and sophomore right winger Grant Besse added an empty-netter for his second conversion of the game.
The rest of the offense came from a hodge-podge of unlikely sources. Redshirt freshman right winger Corbin McGuire joined Dougherty in getting his first goal for UW, while senior center Matt Paape scored for the first time in 78 games and freshman defenseman Jake Linhart had a pair of assists.
Rumpel got his 50th career win, moving into a share of eighth place in the all-time UW list, by making 30 saves.
Eaves said the win was built on little victories. He mentioned a critical blocked shot by Besse on the penalty kill, a big hit by freshman defenseman Keegan Ford and some energizing shifts by freshman center Ryan Wagner as evidence.
“They create energy and it built as we went along,” Eaves said.
Besse’s first goal tied the game at 1-all in the first and the rebound conversion by McGuire pulled the Badgers even at 2-all in the second.
Paape gave the Badgers their first lead in the second and picked up his first conversion since Jan. 13, 2012 at Minnesota State-Mankato.
The Bulldogs (7-7-1) tied it early in the third, but Dougherty buzzed a slap shot past goaltender C.J. Motte (21 saves) early in the third and the Badgers hung on.
Eaves insisted that he didn’t get weary of talking about the winless streak.
“It’s where we are,” he said. “I have an article up in my office that’s called ‘Love Your Fate.’ I think you have to be in the moment.
“The moment that we’re in is about meeting this challenge and figuring a way how to help these guys become big-time college hockey players. That’s what we’re doing.”
The Badgers found a way to solve an elite goaltender — Motte was a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season — scoring a season-high in goals, converting on the power play in consecutive games and having a perfect weekend on the penalty kill.
“I think it’s a stepping stone to good things to come,” McGuire said.
Dougherty said he was more satisfied with the outcome than his first career goal.
“It couldn’t have been more well-deserved,” he said. “Guys from the fourth line to the first time we playing their roles and it really showed.”