GRAND FORKS, N.D. — It has been nearly a year since the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team won the opening game of a weekend road series.
The 16th-ranked Badgers did little Friday to help change that fact in rival North Dakota’s charged environment.
Hurt by defensive-zone turnovers and outworked, UW suffered its worst loss in 21 games at the current Ralph Engelstad Arena, a 5-0 defeat fueled by Rhett Gardner’s hat trick for the 14th-ranked Fighting Hawks.
The Badgers, who were blanked for the first time since the final game of the 2017-18 regular season at Ohio State, have lost their past eight road series openers since defeating Michigan State last Nov. 10.
The latest entry came with eight freshmen getting their first taste of a real college rivalry in another team’s building. It was an adventure for some, and not the kind they’d like to remember.
Badgers coach Tony Granato added that the team’s veterans weren’t free of blame, either.
“Straight across the board, we played a team that was better than us tonight, and we didn’t handle it,” Granato said. “No part of the game were we good tonight. In our own zone, forecheck, neutral zone, faceoffs, specialty teams — we got beat in all aspects. It’s a good team; there’s no question about that. We just didn’t play well.”
Gardner scored in each period for North Dakota (3-2-1), which tied its largest margin of victory over the Badgers (4-3) at home in the past 48 games dating to 1986. That covers both versions of Ralph Engelstad Arena; the original closed in 2001.
North Dakota has defeated UW by five goals or more only six times in the 171 games between the teams.
“We let them dictate the game,” Badgers freshman forward Jack Gorniak said. “We didn’t stick to our game plan and our identity, and they took advantage of that.”
Gorniak and defenseman K’Andre Miller committed defensive-zone turnovers in the first period, a sign of the fractured start that the Badgers’ youngsters suffered.
“The atmosphere in here is a little nerve-racking right away, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” Gorniak said.
Gardner and Jacob Bernard-Docker scored to stake North Dakota to a lead in a first period that could have been better for UW but also could have been worse.
Gardner’s goal, 3:29 into the game, came at the end of a long shift for the Badgers prompted by a Miller turnover 45 seconds earlier.
Bernard-Docker, a freshman defenseman, held his shot long enough for Gorniak to slide past on a block attempt. Bernard-Docker then snapped a shot from near the top of the right circle into the top left corner of the net.
In between those scores, the Badgers were denied from close range and North Dakota had a goal waved off after video review.
Gorniak had a point-blank rebound try blocked by sliding Fighting Hawks defenseman Andrew Peski, and UW’s Tarek Baker hit the post seconds later.
UND’s Nick Jones had a goal overturned after he poked free a puck that starting goalie Jack Berry was trying to cover in the crease. Jones was ruled to have interfered with the goalie.
Things got worse for the Badgers on the first shift of the second period when Will Johnson couldn’t handle a centering pass by North Dakota’s Colton Poolman, leaving the puck free for Gardner to score for the second time for a 3-0 lead.
And, just to show how poorly the night went for UW, the Hawks extended their advantage to four later in the second period when Poolman’s shot from near the left boards hit Badgers defenseman Peter Tischke at the back post and went in the net.
Berry’s night ended after UND’s Cole Smith beat him on a 2-on-1 shot from the left side, but the puck struck the right post. Daniel Lebedeff replaced Berry (11 saves), who has allowed 10 goals in his past two outings with a save percentage of .796.
“I guess there were a few bad bounces, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to make a save, right?” Berry said. “There were a couple that got through that I probably should have stopped.”
Lebedeff made seven saves over the final 27 minutes but conceded the goal that gave Gardner, a senior, his first collegiate three-goal game.
Gardner fired a one-timer past Lebedeff’s glove in the third period, leading to a volley of hats from the announced crowd of 11,266 reaching the ice.
Granato said he felt bad for Berry and Lebedeff, who didn’t get much help from the players in front of them.
“We didn’t play well,” Granato said. “And I don’t really have a whole lot more to say than that. We don’t have any excuses.”
Wisconsin 0 0 0 — 0
North Dakota 2 2 1 — 5
First period: N — Gardner 1 (Adams, Hoff), 3:29; Bernard-Docker 1 (Jones, Mismash), 17:06. Penalty: Mismash, N, 7:26.
Second period: N — Gardner 2 (Poolman), :29; Poolman 3 (Shaw, Adams), 11:09. Penalties: Kalynuk, W, 1:06; Bowen, N, 5:31; Tischke, W, 8:41.
Third period: N — Gardner 3 (Adams, Tychonick), 9:34. Penalties: Senden, N, 11:28; Bernard-Docker, N, 13:40; Kalynuk, W, 16:57; Bowen, N (minor, game misconduct), 17:46; Inamoto, W, 17:46.
Saves: W (Berry 5-6-x, Lebedeff x-3-4) 18; N (Scheel 8-4-12) 24. Power plays: W 0-for-4; N 0-for-3. Att. — 11,266.