Badgers hope power play unit ready for WCHA stretch run, postseason

first_imgBrendan Smith\’s late goal in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic gave Wisconsin renewed faith in its power play unit.[/media-credit]The Wisconsin power play looked anything but powerful in the weeks leading up to the Culver’s Camp Randall Hockey Classic.In their previous six games, the Badgers were converting on just 8 percent of their opportunities with the man-advantage, going 2-for-25. And early season losses to Colorado College (3-2), Minnesota (5-2) and Michigan (3-2) saw the Badgers go a combined 1-for-14 on the power play.But in the final minutes of Saturday’s meeting with UM, it was the UW power play unit that held the game in its hands.And suddenly, skating on chopped-up ice and staring at a one-goal deficit, the Wisconsin power play came alive.“As a unit we felt it was our time,” junior defenseman Brendan Smith said. “We were all excited to go out and convert and change the whole game. We thought we were going to score.”Just 10 seconds after Michigan captain Chris Summers took a tripping penalty, Smith found the back of the net to tie things up. Four minutes and 10 seconds later, after Summers took another minor penalty, Smith scored the eventual game-winner.According to head coach Mike Eaves, the power play unit had devised a plan earlier in the game, and in the third period it got a chance to execute the plan.“After the first period we took a look on film at the power play we had in the first period and then we knew what we had to do,” Eaves said. “The boys adjusted and executed to a ‘T’.”The plan was so nice it worked twice.Both goals began with a faceoff win in the offensive zone by tri-captain Blake Geoffrion, and as any coach will tell you, immediate possession of the puck with the man-advantage is critical to power play success.“Every time they ice the puck it costs you 25 seconds, and if you lose the faceoff then you have to dump it in, then you have to work to get it back,” Eaves said. “Controlling the puck off the faceoff saves you all that energy.”Geoffrion knew the importance of those late-game draws, and he wasn’t about to waste time chasing the puck down in his own end.“I think I tried the hardest on those faceoffs because I really hate skating down and having to set the power play back up,” he said.Following both faceoff wins was a series of tape-to-tape passes that eventually found the stick of senior forward Michael Davies.On both possessions, Davies received the puck and sent it cross-ice to Smith. The result was two perfect one-timers fired by the defenseman that beat Michigan goaltender Bryan Hogan.But UW’s point leader was quick to applaud the flawless passing by Davies, who set up both tallies.“Sometimes when you don’t get that pass in your wheelhouse you have to stop, and that gives the goalie a chance to get better position, so the passes [Davies] made were big for our power play,” Smith said. “I just got ready and he put it right in the most perfect spot.”The puck movement was impressive, but Eaves was most impressed with his struggling power play unit’s ability to break through with the game on the line.“They did it when we needed to have it and that was the most impressive part,” Eaves said. “Down in the critical times of the game it was nice to see those guys execute.”So the Badgers found some power play success against UM on Saturday, but can they duplicate that same success for the stretch run of the season?Sophomore forward Derek Stepan is certainly hoping that clutch performance will propel them forward. Stepan got the second assist in both of Smith’s goals Saturday.“As a unit we’ve been a click off,” Stepan said. “But to go out and execute when the team needed us was huge.“It’s a good start, and we’re looking for that snowball effect.”With critical WCHA clashes and post-season matchups looming, the Badgers know they need to maximize their opportunities with the man-advantage — because in tight games against quality opponents, those power play chances carry even more weight.Smith knows the power play will need to carry that load.“Late in the season your power play has to be pretty good, because teams are so tough and they’re going to take away a lot of the five-on-five chances,” Smith said. “If we can keep our power play rolling it’s going to help us out that much more.”last_img