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Wisconsin secures home playoff ice with 3-2 win over St. Cloud State

Game Photo
St. Cloud State 14 Wisconsin 3, 8 St. Cloud State 2
Veterans Memorial Coliseum • Madison, Wis. • Attendance: 5,781

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1st 2nd 3rd Final
 St. Cloud State
1 0 1 2
2 0 1 3
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 Scoring Summary
1st 00:43 UW Simonelli (McCabe, Kerdiles)
1st 1:07 SCSU Prochno (Bertsch, Thorson)
1st 12:08 UW Mersch (Simonelli)
3rd 18:47 UW Mersch (McCabe)
3rd 19:27 SCSU Prochno (Jensen)
 Goaltender Summary Min GA Sv
SCSU Faragher (20-12-1) 58:55 2 28
UW Rumpel (11-8-4) 60:00 18 18
 Statistical Comparison
 Shots on Goal 20 31
 Power Plays 0-4 0-1
 Penalties-Minutes 1-2 4-8
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March 9, 2013

MADISON, Wis. -- After a long day's work, there's no feeling better than coming back home.

It's been a long season's work for the Wisconsin men's hockey team. Time to come back home.

Playing in front of the 5,781 in attendance inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum, No. 14 Wisconsin (17-12-7, 13-9-7 WCHA) finished off its regular season with a 3-2 win over No. 8 St. Cloud State (21-14-1, 18-9-1 WCHA) on Saturday night, securing home ice to begin the WCHA playoffs next weekend.

Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.) scored 43 seconds into the game and Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) tacked on two more scores, as the Badgers ensured they'd begin postseason hockey in Madison next weekend for the first time in three seasons.

"We talked about being 1-7-2 to start the season after the game in the locker room and where we've come from," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "To achieve home ice as a reward for their blood, sweat and tears and sticking through hard times--it's a great thing for them. Now we get to go back to the Kohl Center and we get to practice there all week in preparation.

"That's a big deal. That's well deserved."

 Fast Facts
• Wisconsin secures home ice to open WCHA playoffs for first time in three seasons
• Mersch scores WCHA-leading 21st, 22nd goals of season in win
• Rumpel records 18 saves, allows two goals to earn 11th win of season

Simonelli got things going right out of the gates for the Badgers, scoring his second goal of the season off assists from Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) and Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) and setting the tone early.

"I think everyone in the locker room knew what we had to do," Simonelli said. "I got the start this game so I knew within myself that I had to get out there and set the pace for the rest of the team."

After earning at least a share of its first regular-season WCHA title with a win last night and looking for the outright title with a series sweep, St. Cloud State proved it was up to the challenge. Just 24 seconds after Simonelli lit the lamp, Andrew Prochno evened the game back up at 1-1 with a goal of his own.

After recording just two shots on goal the night before, Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) responded with a two-goal night on Saturday, including the first with highlight-reel style. The junior forward answered Prochno's score, as he took an outlet feed from Simonelli, took the puck to the net on a two-on-two rush, deked, then scored backhand and high on SCSU goalie Ryan Faragher to regain a 2-1 lead at the 12:08 mark.

"When the puck came to me I just pulled it back and brought it to my back hand and beat the goalie," Mersch said. "It was a patient kind of play. I've never scored like that. That's probably my prettiest score as a Badger."

Lacking the same style points of his first goal, but just as effective, Mersch scored again on an empty net at the 18:47 mark of the third period for his WCHA-leading 22nd goal of the season, extending Wisconsin's lead to 3-1 and all but putting the game away.

Prochno matched Mersch's second goal with a second score of his own just 40 seconds with SCSU's goaltender pulled to cut the lead to 3-2, but the Badgers would hold off the late rally and win.

Helping to close the game down the stretch, Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) bounced back after allowing three goals the night before, making 18 saves and allowing just two scores to earn his 11th win of the season (11-8-4).

"It kind of felt like playoff hockey already," Rumpel said. "I think that will help us going into next weekend. Seeing that we can hang with a top team in the league and actually take it to them for most of that game was good to see."

Wisconsin will get its first chance to test itself against the top teams in the league when the WCHA playoffs begin next weekend. Depending on Sunday's results, the Badgers will host either Minnesota-Duluth or Colorado College at the Kohl Center. The best-of-three series runs Friday through Sunday.

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