Jack Berry has been at this point a few times already in his two seasons with the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
The goaltender is poised to take on a bigger role with the Badgers after showing everyone the kind of game he can play when he’s at his best.
The latest such instance was last Sunday, when he tied a career best with 40 saves in blanking No. 1 Notre Dame.
Inherent in that he’s reached that level on multiple occasions over his collegiate career, however, is that he’s slipped back to less desirable plateaus in between.
“That’s one of the hardest things in hockey, one of the hardest things for goalies, is to keep that rhythm going and keep that mentality going,” said Jeff Sanger, the Badgers’ volunteer goaltending coach.
The mentality that Berry brought to the Badgers in his decorated performance last week was an aggressive one that he knows he has to repeat.
“Obviously, everybody’s not going to be 100 percent every game,” Berry said. “But when you’re 80, 90 percent, you’ve got to be able to battle and you’ve got to find different ways to make your game elevate.”
Berry and the 18th-ranked Badgers have No. 14 Penn State standing in the way of their next level tonight and Saturday at the Kohl Center.
And if it’s possible for a player to have an opposing team as a nemesis after just four games playing against it, Berry and Penn State are a match.
That fits into the difficulty that the Badgers have faced against the Nittany Lions over the past four seasons.
Included in the sophomore’s four games against Penn State are one of his worst outings with the Badgers and one of the most painful results.
Given the first start after the Badgers’ three-week midseason break on Jan. 5 because coach Tony Granato said he liked how Berry was playing before the stoppage, Berry allowed four goals on 14 shots. He was yanked from the game after less than 24 minutes.
Last March, he fell victim to Liam Folkes’ breakaway goal between his pads in Penn State’s 2-1, double-overtime victory in the Big Ten Conference’s championship game.
His stats against Penn State include a 1-3 record, .872 save percentage and 3.94 goals-against average. Against everyone else: 14-8-1, .909 and 2.38.
When Badgers associate head coach Mark Osiecki talks about Berry, his thoughts take him to when the goalie could have been at a personal low point but instead channeled his energy into being a positive supporter.
“Once he was on the bench, he was the best teammate there was,” Osiecki said of the remainder of the game after Berry was taken out against Penn State in January. “You can’t say enough about that. I think that’s what it’s all about right now for us, is being unbelievably great teammates.”
The Badgers have won just twice in the past 16 games against Penn State, a sixth-year varsity program on a quick rise in NCAA hockey.
But in the fourth-place Nittany Lions this week and third-place Michigan next week, they face the two teams directly ahead of them in the race for home ice in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs.
If Berry is going to change his fortune against the Nittany Lions and that of his team, it probably will come with the same kind of game he played against Notre Dame last week.
And the results likely will be visible early.
When Berry is playing well, it’s often because he’s playing at the top of his crease, zoned in on the potential for a shot coming from the opponent with the puck instead of what might happen if there’s a quick pass.
That comes with a trust that the teammates in front of him are playing their roles in the defensive zone and are ready to clear out opponents from the area around the net.
“When he’s on, he’s out, aggressive,” Sanger said. “You can see it in his demeanor. You can see he’s not sitting back, waiting.”
The opposite also has happened. St. Lawrence scored on two of its first five shots on goal on Oct. 28, starting Berry toward an early exit from the game.
It was nearly a month before Berry got to play again as graduate transfer Kyle Hayton continued as the No. 1 option.
Then Berry got three of the last five starts before the midseason break as Badgers coaches signaled the goaltending position was up for grabs.
It slipped away from Berry again after Penn State got to him.
Now, with confidence restored after an outing that made him the Big Ten’s second star of the week, he’s preparing the same way he said he always has, through starts and time on the bench.
“Don’t change a thing,” he said. “I like to feel that I’m a positive person, and that’s the way you’ve got to be every day. It doesn’t matter what your role is or who you are. You’ve got to be positive.”
Dave Lundeen, one of four brothers who played for UW in the 1970s, died Thursday at 63. He had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
Lundeen was a senior on the Badgers’ 1977 NCAA championship team, which compiled the best record in program history (37-7-1).