STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — What disturbed University of Wisconsin men’s hockey coach Tony Granato the most out of a lopsided result on Friday?
“Pretty much start to finish,” he said.
The Badgers pulled even in the second period but saw No. 19 Penn State score the next six goals for an 8-2 thrashing at Pegula Ice Arena.
It was a low point in a UW season that already has had a few of them.
“I’ve defended our guys’ effort in staying in games and how hard they’ve played and how close they’ve been,” Granato said. “Tonight, that wasn’t close. That was as far as you could get from being a good hockey game for our team.”
Denis Smirnov tied a career high with four points on two goals and two assists, and Stoughton native Cole Hults had a goal and two assists for the Nittany Lions.
The Badgers (10-16-5, 6-10-5-2 Big Ten Conference) got second-period goals by Mick Messner and Wyatt Kalynuk to pull to 2-2. But when it needed some strong play in the defensive zone and saves from Daniel Lebedeff in the following minutes, UW didn’t get it.
Smirnov scored his second goal of the game for Penn State (18-11-2, 10-10-1-1) after Lebedeff couldn’t hold onto Alex Stevens’ long shot with his catching glove. The puck rebounded off Smirnov’s body and into the net for a momentum-changing score.
Hults made it 4-2 just 77 seconds later, sending a harmless-looking shot from the left wall past Lebedeff’s glove and in off the right post.
“I’d for sure take a couple back,” Lebedeff said. “We scored (to make it) 2-2 and I think everyone was doing well. And then Penn State took over.”
It was the 10th time this season the Badgers allowed goals less than two minutes apart. Penn State got an 11th in the third period when Chase Berger scored 60 seconds after Nate Sucese’s goal.
Those tallies made it 7-2, and Granato summoned third-string goalie Johan Blomquist (eight saves) from the bench to replace Lebedeff (40 saves). Jack Berry dressed but was held out as discipline for an undisclosed off-ice incident, Granato said.
A Badgers defensive corps that has been hampered by injuries didn’t get enough help from the team’s forwards, Granato said. Already without leading scorer K’Andre Miller (left leg injury), UW played most of the game with five defensemen while Tyler Inamoto was limited by the recurrence of a hip injury suffered a week earlier.
Against a team that leads the country in shots on goal — Penn State got 56 on Friday — and averages more than five goals per game at home, a fatigued defense was too much for UW to overcome.
“We’re obviously really upset about our effort and our compete in that game,” Badgers captain Peter Tischke said. “It’s embarrassing, getting beat that bad, 8-2. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror tonight and respond tomorrow.”
Sam Sternschein scored with 15.6 seconds left in the second period for a 5-2 lead, beating Lebedeff high to the glove side with a laser to the top right corner.
“I didn’t track the puck at the end of the second period as well,” Lebedeff said. “I don’t know the reason. Maybe I just got too tired or something.”
Berger’s goal — the last work of the night for Lebedeff — came after Kris Myllari’s shot popped out of the goaltender’s glove.
“There was lots of work for him,” Granato said. “He made a couple saves for us early in the game to keep us in it. They picked him apart pretty good there.”
As much as UW struggled, it got second-period goals by Messner and Kalynuk to get back in the game.
Messner finished off a set of passes out of the defensive zone with a shot that beat Penn State goalie Peyton Jones (29 saves) high to the glove side.
Less than four minutes later, UW tied it when Kalynuk’s shot from the right point got past a screened Jones.
It was all downhill from there for the Badgers, who were outshot 9-2 in the final eight minutes of the period.
“You score a second one and you think you’re back in it,” Kalynuk said. “We let our foot off the pedal. Just mental mistakes, silly mistakes. They’re an offensive team, they capitalize on those so they were in the back of our net pretty quickly.”
Wisconsin 0 2 0 — 2
Penn State 2 3 3 — 8
First period: P — Biro 11 (Limoges), 10:20; Smirnov 6 (Kerr, Sucese), 12:53. Penalty: Sucese, P, 15:49.
Second period: W — Messner 7 (Freytag, Zimmer), 7:47; Kalynuk 8, 11:46. P — Smirnov 7 (Stevens, Larsson), 13:51; Hults 5 (Smirnov), 15:08; Sternschein 8 (Hults), 19:44. Penalties: Gober, P, 20:00; Ahcan, W, 20:00; Hults, P, 20:00; Gorniak, W, 20:00.
Third period: P — Sucese 15 (Smirnov, Hults), 3:25; Berger 13 (Myllari, Bell), 4:25; Biro 12, 11:00.
Saves: W (Lebedeff 14-22-4, Blomquist x-x-8) 48; P (Jones 9-8-12) 29. Power plays: W 0-for-1; P 0-for-0. Att. — 6,110.