ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Part one of a three-week, six-game gauntlet was a bust for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
It’s hard to overcome allowing three power-play goals, a handful of blown defensive-zone assignments and a lack of sustained offensive pressure when the game was still in the balance.
And it doesn’t get any easier from here.
The Badgers were overwhelmed by No. 3 St. Cloud State 5-1 on Friday in their first visit to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center since 2011.
UW has another game Saturday against the Huskies before opening Big Ten play at No. 1 Michigan and at home against No. 4 Minnesota. Things could get ugly unless the Badgers are able to control the puck more and clean up their defensive zone.
Badgers goaltender Cameron Rowe threw up his hands after a missed defensive assignment left St. Cloud State’s Josh Luedtke wide open to take a pass from Nick Perbix and score for a 5-0 lead in the second period.
It was that kind of night in the defensive zone for the Badgers, who have allowed five goals in all three losses they have suffered this season.
“They were fast,” UW defenseman Jesper Peltonen said. “We weren’t engaged as much as we should have been. They won special teams today.”
Rowe was pulled for the second time in his three starts. Jared Moe entered at the start of the third period but UW’s woes were primarily in front of the goalie.
“We didn’t give him a whole lot of support on a couple of those power-play goals,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “It’s not fair to Cam to have to fight through that.”
It was a game to forget for several UW defensemen, who were slow to track onrushing St. Cloud State players in the first period and had bad fortune to boot.
Power-play goals 73 seconds apart by Spencer Meier and Jami Krannila put the Huskies in control.
St. Cloud State’s Sam Hentges forced the first penalty when he squeezed through UW defensemen Peltonen and Jake Martin to get a good scoring chance on Rowe. Martin was called for holding on the play.
Meier got credit for the goal that put the Huskies up 1-0 when his one-timer from the right circle rebounded off bodies in front of the net and trickled slowly over the goal line. UW defensemen Peltonen and Josh Ess were battling for position with Kevin Fitzgerald atop the crease.
UW defenseman Anthony Kehrer was called for tripping 21 seconds later and the Huskies, who entered the game 10-for-23 on the power play this season, struck again with a quick rush.
St. Cloud State beat the pairing of Peltonen and Martin again, with a give-and-go between Krannila and Zach Okabe catching the duo flat-footed.
“We held with them until they got those two power-play goals,” UW forward Roman Ahcan said. “And then we got away from our game and started falling apart.”
Huskies goalie David Hrenak made an unorthodox sliding save on UW’s best chance of the opening period, a Liam Malmquist breakaway during a delayed penalty.
The hide-your-eyes play in the defensive zone by the Badgers (2-3) continued in the second period. Forward Ryder Donovan got stripped of the puck by Kyler Kupka, leading to Kevin Fitzgerald hitting the roof of the net from close range.
Easton Brodzinski made it 4-0 with a one-timer that elevated St. Cloud State (5-2) to 3-for-3 on the power play. The Huskies finished 3-for-4.
So far this season, the Badgers have gone as their penalty kill has gone. Michigan Tech went 3-for-6 with the player advantage in sweeping the opening-weekend series. UW killed all four Army chances in a pair of victories last weekend.
Max Johnson’s rebound goal in the third period was UW’s lone bright spot on offense and broke up Hrenak’s shutout bid. The Badgers forced the issue offensively more in the third period than they did in the opening 40 minutes but their hole was too deep.
Friday was the first time playing in front of a hostile road crowd in college for 10 Badgers players. Sophomores Rowe, Kehrer, Sam Stange and Mathieu De St. Phalle avoided that experience as freshmen because UW’s games were played in front of limited audiences during the pandemic.
Wisconsin 0 0 1 — 1
St. Cloud State 2 3 0 — 5
First period: SC — Meier 1 (Donohue, Krannila), 12:17 (pp); Krannila 4 (Okabe, Donohue), 13:30 (pp). Penalties: Fitzgerald, SC, 7:48; Martin, W, 10:49; Kehrer, W, 12:38; Hentges, SC, 14:17; Trejbal, SC, 19:00.
Second period: SC — Fitzgerald 3 (Kupka, Miller), 4:05; Brodzinski 3 (Perbix, Hentges), 9:06 (pp); Luedtke 1 (Perbix), 17:12. Penalties: Baker, W, 8:40; Brodzinski, SC, 11:02; Salquist, SC, 15:17; Ess, W, 15:17; Okabe, SC, 18:35; Krannila, SC (misconduct), 18:35.
Third period: W — Johnson 1 (Caufield), 6:17. Penalties: Peltonen, W, 3:33; Bushy, SC, 10:16; Ceulemans, W, 10:16.
Saves: W (Rowe 8-10-x, Moe x-x-10) 28; SC (Hrenak 7-7-9) 23. Power plays: W 0-for-5; SC 3-for-4. Att. — 3,774.