Wisconsin Badgers get consistency, goals from line of Dominick Mersch, Roman Ahcan, Brock Caufield

January 23, 2019
Dominick Mersch centers an all-freshman line with Roman Ahcan and Brock Caufield that has scored five of the Badgers' past nine goals.

It was no coincidence that the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team put Roman Ahcan, Dominick Mersch and Brock Caufield over the boards to start overtime on Sunday.

That situation is a place where a team wants to use a line that won’t offer many surprises, and the Badgers’ freshman trio continued to offer a consistent effort in the series against Notre Dame, coach Tony Granato said.

Mersch and Ahcan scored the Badgers’ goals in the 2-2 tie in Chicago on Sunday, wrapping up a weekend in which their line provided a lot of the team’s offensive chances.

Their play at the other end of the ice, however, is where Mersch said it all starts.

“We’ve been going up against some really good lines, and our main focus has been trying to shut them down,” he said. “I think it’s helped elevate our game in a way. We feed off each other, and we each bring a little something different to the table. We play well together, and I love playing with those guys.”

Ahcan, Mersch and Caufield combined to register 32 of the Badgers’ 122 even-strength shot attempts over the two games against Notre Dame, which ended in UW gaining only one of a possible six points in the Big Ten Conference standings.

The next-closest forward line — Linus Weissbach, Seamus Malone and Will Johnson — generated only 22 shot attempts.

“They’ve been consistent all year,” Granato said of his freshman unit, which has been together for all but three games. “They’ve gone hard to the net. They’ve been physical. They’ve been smart. ... Game in and game out, shift in and shift out, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from those three guys.”

What they get is prototypical third-line work: getting under opponents’ skin, drawing penalties and scoring an occasional goal.

“They’re hard to play against, and that’s the key to their success,” UW goaltender Jack Berry said.

Their share of the goal-scoring has gone up recently. Of the nine goals UW scored in its past three games, Ahcan and Mersch each tallied two and Caufield contributed one.

“Every day, they bring the same effort, same attitude,” captain Peter Tischke said. “They know what they have to do and they excel at it. So it’s really good to see it pay off for them.”

Four recruits ranked

Four Badgers recruits were among North American skaters ranked Monday as prospects for the 2019 NHL draft, including two in the top 15.

Center Alex Turcotte was fifth on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings of draft-eligible forwards and defensemen playing in North American leagues. Right wing Cole Caufield was 15th.

Turcotte and Caufield play for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, as does center Owen Lindmark, who was ranked 65th.

Right wing Sam Stange of Eau Claire North was 137th of 221 players included on the North American skaters list.

The 2019 NHL draft is June 21-22 in Vancouver.

Playing it close

UW is 2-4 this season in games decided by one goal, or two with an empty-net score. Losses in two of the past three games plus the tie on Sunday have the Badgers looking for the key to a last push to victory in close games.

“Learning how to win in those tight situations is what separates a good team from a great team,” Tischke said. “I think that’ll come. We’re going to have close games coming up every game, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to win. And once we figure that out, I think it’ll really help us and boost our confidence.”

The Badgers play at Minnesota on Friday and Saturday, and the teams have played four straight one-goal games at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Each team has won two, with series splits in the past two seasons.

“The games are probably going to be tied 2-2 or 3-3 in the third,” Granato said. “And hopefully we’ve faced enough of those situations where now the next time we face it we’re ready for it and handle it in a way that comes out with better results for us.”

Awards season

Former Badgers assistant coach Kevin Patrick, now with Vermont, is the 2019 recipient of the Terry Flanagan Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association, honoring an assistant’s career body of work.

Patrick coached at UW from 2005 to 2010, helping the Badgers to the national title in 2006 and to the championship game in 2010.

Madison’s Dave and Judy Ferwerda were named the winners of the Joe Burke Award for outstanding contribution, support, and dedication to women’s hockey. In the late 1990s, they founded the Wisconsin Challengers girls program that later moved under the Madison Capitols’ umbrella.

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