Before the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team opened its first non-conference series of the season, coach Tony Granato shined a light on all the things that could pull his players’ attention away from what’s at hand.
The pair of games this weekend against Arizona State don’t count toward the Big Ten standings after the 14th-ranked Badgers played six intense conference tilts. It’s a holiday week. There has been a UW forward out injured, another away at a World Junior Championship camp and as many as three more awaiting their turn.
On top of all that, COVID-19 made its way into the program late in the week, according to sources, sidelining four more forwards for Saturday’s game against the Sun Devils.
Keeping the focus on continuing positive developments on the ice wasn’t the only challenge for the Badgers. Arizona State was looking to break out offensively after being largely muted on the first half of an eight-game, 22-day road trip.
The Sun Devils did that in a big way, scoring three times in the second period to gain separation in what became a wild 8-5 victory over the Badgers at LaBahn Arena.
“I thought we weren’t very smart on how we played to fall behind like we did,” Granato said. “The mistakes we made were mental mistakes. That’s not us.”
Demetrios Koumontzis and Willie Knierim scored twice for Arizona State, which netted more goals in the first 22 minutes Saturday (three) that it had in its first four games of the season (two).
Seniors Tarek Baker and Ty Pelton-Byce and juniors Roman Ahcan and Dominick Mersch were unavailable for the game. A team spokesperson didn’t elaborate. Sources said one had tested positive for the coronavirus and the other three were close contacts.
They added to center Dylan Holloway, who’s riding out a coronavirus pause of Canada’s World Juniors camp in Alberta.
That left nine forwards in the lineup; the Badgers have been dressing 13. Defensemen Shay Donovan and Luke LaMaster played sparingly as forwards Saturday.
“Good teams are going to find ways to overcome that,” said Badgers center Owen Lindmark, who had a collegiate-best four points with two goals and two assists. “I’m confident we can do that tomorrow.”
Beyond Sunday’s game against the Sun Devils, the Badgers also have contests scheduled for Thursday and Friday at Ohio State and Dec. 8-9 at Michigan State before a break for exams and the holidays. Granato said he didn’t know when any of the missing players will be back in the lineup but it probably won’t be Sunday.
The Big Ten’s return-to-play plan requires players who test positive in a daily antigen scan to get a PCR test to confirm the result. Another positive there means the player is out for a minimum of 21 days, a time during which he or she undergoes cardiac testing.
Granato said he never considered pulling the plug on Saturday’s game because of the developments taking players out of UW’s lineup.
“We had enough guys to play,” he said. “These kids have been waiting for eight months to play games. And if you get enough guys that you can dress to play healthy, you’re going to try to play.”
Down 6-2 in the third period, the Badgers reeled off three straight goals — the second of the season by Jack Gorniak, the second of the game by Lindmark and a delayed-penalty strike by Linus Weissbach.
But on the power play that followed Weissbach’s goal, Knierim scored for Arizona State on a 2-on-1 to reverse the momentum.
Arizona State (1-3-1), which defeated UW (4-3) for the first time in five meetings, grabbed its first lead of the season and exceeded its combined scoring total of its first four games 1:41 into the second period when James Sanchez fired past Badgers starting goalie Robbie Beydoun from atop the right circle.
Goals 25 seconds apart by Koumontzis and Tanner Hickey midway through the period brought and end to the night for Beydoun, who stopped 18 of 23 shots in 30:28.
“Pretty much all those goals were because I couldn’t really see the puck through bodies,” Beydoun said. “I’ve just got to find a way to track those better through traffic.”
The Badgers were planning on giving freshman goaltender Cameron Rowe some playing time in the series but entering mid-game wasn’t in the script.
Spending their 16th of 22 days on the road to open the season, the Sun Devils answered both Badgers first-period goals as the teams went into the first intermission tied 2-2.
The score also was 2-2 after 20 minutes in the first game of the teams’ series at the Kohl Center last February. UW won that one 7-6 behind a hat trick and late winner by Ahcan. There was a similar score but a different story on Saturday as Arizona State tied its best scoring output against a Division I team in six seasons as a varsity program.
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Arizona State 2 3 3 — 8
Wisconsin 2 0 3 — 5
First period: W — B. Caufield 3 (De St. Phalle), 2:35. A — Kopperud 1 (Sandhu, O’Reilly), 6:09. W — Lindmark 1, 13:06 (sh). AS — Koumontzis 1 (Kopperud, Wilson), 13:46. Penalties: Ess, W, 11:40; O’Reilly, AS, 14:59.
Second period: AS — Sanchez 1 (Grando), 1:41; Koumontzis 2 (Kopperud, Sanchez), 10:03; Hickey 1 (Sanchez), 10:28.
Third period: AS — Eckerle 1 (Judson, Murray), 3:21. W — Gorniak 2 (Peltonen, Lindmark), 5:23; Lindmark 2, 8:47; Weissbach 5 (Lindmark, Inamoto), 15:56. AS — Knierim 1 (Eckerle, Gourley), 16:54 (sh); Knierim 2 (Sandhu, Wilson), 18:57 (en). Penalty: Sandhu, AS, 15:56.
Saves: AS (Brady 9-12-12) 33; W (Beydoun 12-6-x, Rowe x-0-11) 29. Power plays: AS 0-for-1; W 0-for-3.
In this Series
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