The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team was greeted with a week of competition drills in practice after opening its season with two uninspiring losses.
Asked to describe the on-ice sessions, forward Sam Stange initially used one word: “Necessary.”
As intended, the sessions got the Badgers in more of a feisty mood to play Army on Thursday. They were in control of the puck and had enough opportunities to take over the non-conference game.
Scoring was still an issue for the Badgers as they try to address the major preseason question on where the goals will come from this season.
UW did just enough to escape with a 4-1 victory against the Black Knights at the Kohl Center thanks to a third-period goal by Jack Gorniak just as a power play expired and two empty-net scores.
Seeing better results from the many small battles that make the difference in games was a relief to the Badgers after a hard week of practice.
“Especially going back and watching the film, it was embarrassing, frankly,” Stange said of 5-2 and 5-1 losses to Michigan Tech last week. “We knew that we needed it and we knew it was coming, so I think we just had to embrace it. I think we did a good job of that.”
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UW was 1-for-4 on the power play, with Gorniak’s goal coming as an Army penalty was expiring. It had more stretches of zone time and dangerous chances but also had missed passes and poor zone entries contribute to difficulties.
That has been only part of the scoring woes. There was improvement Thursday on one of the issues from last week’s losses to Michigan Tech — making connections in the offensive zone.
But the final step of beating the goaltender remained difficult for a team that lost its top four scorers from last season.
Gorniak scored with 5:02 remaining on UW’s 40th shot on goal, firing a one-timer past Army goaltender Gavin Abric after a superb pass from behind the net by Anthony Kehrer.
“It was a relief that we put that one in and it’s good we got the win tonight,” Gorniak said.
Relief was indeed the prevailing feeling, Badgers coach Tony Granato said.
“As the game went on, you felt we were playing well, you felt we were going to deserve a break at some point,” he said. “Jack was able to capitalize and give us that sigh of relief that, OK, we finally got a lead.”
UW’s Owen Lindmark and Ryder Donovan scored empty-net goals in the final minute to pad the advantage.
UW outshot Army 43-22, with around 20 chances from the quality scoring area in front of the net.
Tyler Inamoto, the leader of the defensive corps, missed the third period with a lower-body injury and won’t play Friday, Granato said. The fifth-year player was struggling at the bench after a second-period shift.
He suffered a left leg injury in Monday’s practice and didn’t skate with the team on Tuesday. UW already is without defenseman Mike Vorlicky (lower-body injury) for what could be an extended amount of time, so losing one of the team’s most integral defensive assets makes things difficult for UW.
But the Badgers (1-2) held Army without a shot attempt for more than nine minutes of the third period before the Black Knights (0-3-1) pulled Abric, a Hayward native, for an extra attacker.
A save by Cameron Rowe and a block by Daniel Laatsch, both on second-team All-American Colin Bilek, kept UW ahead before Lindmark forced a turnover and scored into an empty net.
“It was good because chances are lots of wins this year will be tight games and you’re going to be in a situation where you could have to defend leads,” Granato said. “I think it was good for us to go through.”
The push for a more aggressive stance in one-on-one battles paid off early for UW when Roman Ahcan forced a turnover at the defensive blue line and raced ahead to set up Stange for a first-period goal.
Any kind of goal is going to be welcomed by the Badgers. After a hard week, that one was especially admired.
“That’s the kind of goal that we needed at that point,” Stange said.
Army 0 1 0 — 1
Wisconsin 0 1 3 — 4
First period penalty: Abdelnour, A, 9:04.
Second period: W — Stange 1 (Ahcan), 5:11. A — Baez 1 (Plunkett), 11:50. Penalties: Martin, W, 2:48; Machlitt, A, 8:22; Mack, A, 15:33.
Third period: W — Gorniak 1 (Kehrer, Baker), 14:58 (pp); Lindmark 1, 19:54 (en); R. Donovan 1 (Urdahl), 19:37 (en). Penalty: Wilson, A, 12:58.
Saves: A (Abric 16-13-10) 39; W (Rowe 8-8-5) 21. Power plays: A 0-for-1; W 1-for-4. Att. — 7,175.