Good tales seemed to be everywhere and then, one by one, they vanished into the chill of a Friday evening designed for celebrating.
Wait a minute. A timely story did survive, but it’s not one members of the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team will recall with fondness.
A night that began with the joyous christening of the Bob Johnson Rink at the Kohl Center ended with a demoralizing thud as the Badgers dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to Colorado College before an announced crowd of 8,643.
Johnson, the late UW coach and one of the greatest achievers in hockey history, would surely have loved to see a Wisconsin kid be a hero in this Western Collegiate Hockey Association series opener. Sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe (Eau Claire) and junior winger Keegan Meuer (Madison) nearly obliged with critical third-period goals.
Johnson would surely have loved to see the Badgers dial up the offense and dominate CC like his clubs did back in the day — they were 45-16-2 and scored five or more goals 36 times between 1966 and ’82 — and it looked for a while like that good karma was brewing.
UW jumped out a 2-0 lead in the first 12 minutes, 33 seconds courtesy of goals by junior left winger Michael Mersch and sophomore left winger Brad Navin. Mersch had three other great chances go awry in the opening period, but it looked like the right foot was on the throttle.
Yet not only did the Badgers fail in another overtime excursion — they are 1-12-23 since the start of the 2007 season — they saw a remnant of the Johnson legacy contribute to their doom.
Right-winger Charlie Taft set up the winning goal by left-winger Alexander Krushelnyski 25 seconds into the 5-minute extra period. Taft, whose father, John, played for Johnson on the school’s first NCAA championship team in 1973, got a stick on a weak clearing attempt by sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel and quickly fed Krushelnyski for the one-timer from the low slot.
“I’ve got a lot of ties to Wisconsin,” Charlie Taft said, adding that things “just didn’t work out” when it came to him following his father’s footsteps to Madison. “I had 20 family members here tonight. I just really wanted to have a good game.”
He did, putting a temporary damper on what was supposed to be a celebration of a good man and a great legacy. Johnson’s children and their families represented Martha, their mother whose poor health kept her home in California. Johnson’s 5-year-old great-grandson, Brodie McConnell, dropped the ceremonial first puck.
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“I thought it was great,” said CC coach Scott Owens, who grew up in Madison. “It was nice with all the Johnsons here and the whole thing.”
UW coach Mike Eaves said his club never had control of the game and lamented the lack of time spent on the Kohl Center ice sheet, which is 7 feet wider than the new LaBahn Arena sheet where the team now practices.
“It looked like at times we had bad gap (defensively) and it made things a little bit more difficult,” he said. “It’s not an excuse. It’s a reason.”
McCabe refused to buy it, though.
“Our systems have to adapt to that,” he said. “We can’t use that as an excuse.”
UW had the momentum twice in the third period, but was unable to sustain it en route to being outshot 39-26. McCabe provided a 3-2 lead on a power-play conversion in the opening minute and Meuer followed up his own rebound and beat goaltender Josh Thorimbert to tie the game at 4 with 4:18 left.
Meuer, who was plus-2 and added an assist, said he thought the Badgers had a “stranglehold” on the situation.
“We’re at home. The crowd’s feeling it. Everybody on the bench (thinks) we’ve got momentum. We’re thinking we’re going to win,” he said. “I thought we had it.”
Eaves, who played for Johnson at UW and the NHL, said the experience of seeing his mentor honored was special.
“There was a distinct uniqueness to this night, no question,” he said.
But the Badgers would no doubt like to have written a better ending.