Tony Granato doesn’t want his University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team to back away from an aggressive nature.
The Badgers coach also doesn’t want to see his team spending long stretches on the penalty kill like it has recently.
There’s the dilemma for the 16th-ranked Badgers, who have allowed 10 power-play goals through six games, the fourth-highest per-game total in the country.
Granted, five of those goals were in one game, a statistics-skewing 6-2 loss to Michigan Tech on Friday. Still, Granato said he sees the issue being more with the volume of penalty-kill work than with tactics or personnel.
“We’re going to have to be better, for sure,” he said. “When you ask your penalty killers to kill as many as we did … you’re putting them in a pretty bad spot.”
Michigan Tech capitalized on six of 12 power-play tries in last weekend’s two-game series, striking three times during two major penalties to Badgers players on Friday.
Center Tarek Baker was called for getting his elbow up high on the Huskies’ Seamus Donohue, meriting an ejection after referees viewed the replay. Right wing Sean Dhooghe later spent five minutes in the box for grabbing a Tech player’s face mask during an altercation.
“You still want to play a physical game, but maybe it’s leading with the stick to get the puck first and then if the body’s there you can finish,” Baker said. “Our team likes to play fast and we like to get in the corners and be gritty. I think it’s big for us to keep playing the way we’re playing, but I think we just need to maybe pick up our penalty killing a little bit.”
UW is tied for third from the bottom nationally in penalty killing, getting to the end of only 64.3 percent of opponent chances without allowing a goal.
The team has been short-handed for an average of 6:37 per game and is tied for 13th of 60 teams with an average of 16 penalty minutes.
The Badgers’ upcoming opponent, No. 14 North Dakota, hasn’t been tremendously effective on the power play through five games, scoring just four times in 23 chances and conceding one short-handed goal.
UW would rather not give the Fighting Hawks the opportunity to change that.
“We’ve got to become a team that becomes aware of how the games are being called,” Granato said. “There’s lots of teams in the country that have great power plays. There’s great skill in college hockey. It’s something we’ll have to be better at.”
Granato hopes the Badgers’ third-most-played series will be a frequent part of future non-conference schedules.
UW will play games 171 and 172 against North Dakota this weekend — only Minnesota (286) and Colorado College (188) have been more frequent opponents — in the final meeting of a four-season contract between the teams.
Granato wants to keep the series going between former Western Collegiate Hockey Association rivals who split into separate leagues in 2013, and he said his North Dakota counterpart, Brad Berry, has signaled the same desire.
“So hopefully it’ll remain the staple games of the year that all the fans can look forward to,” Granato said.
Next season’s non-conference slate is already full for the Badgers, however. UW is scheduled for home series against Minnesota Duluth, Clarkson and Arizona State, a pair of games at Omaha and single contests at Boston College and Merrimack.
Top line finds form
Two parts of the Badgers’ top line go into the upcoming series at North Dakota on the heels of their best game or stretch in college.
Left wing Max Zimmer scored two goals for the first time in his 66-game UW career on Saturday. Center Seamus Malone had a goal and two assists in the finale against Michigan Tech, giving him seven points in his last three games, the best three-outing stretch in his 112-game collegiate career.
“Seamus is starting to come alive,” Granato said. “So it’s nice to see him get rewarded because he crashes and bangs and sticks his nose in there as hard as anybody. And it’s starting to go in for him a little bit, too.”
Badgers recruit Cole Caufield has scored in each of four games he’s played against United States Hockey League competition with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Overall, he has eight goals in 13 games after a hat trick Saturday at Muskegon and a goal Sunday against Dubuque.
Also among players who have committed to UW:
• Alex Turcotte, Caufield’s teammate with the NTDP Under-18 team, returned Sunday from a month-long absence because of a lower-body injury. Both Turcotte and Caufield are projected as first-round pick in next year’s NHL draft.
• Forward Nick Pierre and defenseman Joe Palodichuk won the Upper Midwest High School Elite League title Sunday with Team Southeast by defeating forward Shane LaVelle, defenseman Mike Vorlicky and Team Southwest 5-3.
• Team Wisconsin forward Sam Stange was the top-scoring UW recruit in the Elite League, notching 10 goals and 21 points in 23 games.