Jack Berry stood outside the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey locker room in East Lansing, Michigan, last month and professed confidence in his team’s chances to rebound in the second half of the season.
What the senior goaltender didn’t know at the time, after a 5-4 overtime loss to Michigan State on Dec. 7 left the Badgers slumping at the break, was how much he’d be involved in it.
Some clarity has been gained in recent days, and Berry might be headed for his first series-opening start in nearly a year.
He made 27 saves in UW’s 5-2 victory over No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday. Afterward, coach Tony Granato said that Berry “will probably get the next game,” Friday’s contest against the 20th-ranked Spartans at the Kohl Center.
Sophomore Daniel Lebedeff has started the first game of the Badgers’ last 16 series, dating to last season, and in 28 of the past 31 games. But his save percentage has stayed below .900 all season.
The Badgers’ woes haven’t been limited to the crease, but the coaches turned to Berry in three of the past seven games to try to change the team’s fortune. The first ended in a 3-3 tie and shootout victory at Minnesota. The second was the overtime loss at Michigan State.
UW hopes for more out of Berry like it saw on Saturday against the Buckeyes.
“He was confident,” Granato said. “He made them make great shots, or try to make great shots, and really gave our team a lot of confidence. You could see the effort to try to block shots there, especially as the game went on, to help him.”
Berry has a .908 save percentage — better than in any of his first three seasons — and 3.08 goals-against average in six appearances.
Saturday’s game was his first start at the Kohl Center since a 4-3 overtime loss to Denver on Jan. 5, 2019.
“Playing in front of this crowd and playing in the Kohl Center, it’s a good feeling and you just soak it in a little bit,” Berry said.
Berry’s most recent series-opening start was Jan. 25, 2019, when, on the heels of a tie against Notre Dame, he didn’t make it until the end of the first period against Minnesota. He allowed three goals on nine shots in what ended up as a 9-4 loss.
That’s an example of the difficulties the Badgers have had in finding consistently good goaltending in recent seasons.
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In the second half of his final college season, Berry has another chance to string together quality performances. Another strong effort from the five players in front of him would go a long way in helping.
“I thought we played a great 60 minutes,” Berry said Saturday. “I felt like we haven’t maybe done that in a little bit. And we stuck to the game plan, which was huge. Coach preaches that. I thought it was good for us to do, and maybe we can carry this momentum into next weekend.”
Holloway 10th in rankings
Dylan Holloway was listed 10th on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings of 2020 draft-eligible skaters from North American leagues.
The forward has produced three goals and eight points in 19 games as an 18-year-old after netting the award as Canada’s junior player of the year in 2018-19.
Holloway led a group of seven players connected to the Badgers listed in the midterm rankings. Fellow freshman Mike Vorlicky, a defenseman, was 208th.
Among recruits on the list of skaters, defenseman Daniel Laatsch was 101st, forward Sam Stange 128th and forward Zach Urdahl 130th.
Recruits Noah Grannan and Cameron Rowe were eighth and 19th, respectively, in the rankings of goalies from North American leagues.
Badgers players have been hearing an emphasis from coaches on getting work done in front of the opponent’s net. The effort paid off last weekend, with at least four of the seven goals scored against Ohio State coming because of or aided by net-front traffic.
Two of them, both on Saturday, were redirections. One was by Sean Dhooghe on a power play; the other was from Roman Ahcan, who had Tyler Inamoto’s shot bounce off his skate, then go in off Ohio State forward Ronnie Hein’s blade.
“We’re finally starting to get some puck luck, which is nice,” Ahcan said.
From the infirmary
Defensemen Ty Emberson and Vorlicky and forward Max Zimmer didn’t practice Monday while nursing lower-body injuries from Saturday’s game. They’re expected to be back at practice Tuesday or Wednesday. ... Goaltender Johan Blomquist has been out for the past week because of an upper-body injury.