The moment that will be replayed in highlights happened early in the third period. The moment that meant so much to William Gramme came about 90 minutes earlier Saturday night.
The University of Wisconsin freshman goalie was preparing to lead the team onto the Kohl Center ice for the first time, and he shared later that there were some tears in his eyes.
“It was just so fun,” Gramme said.
And that was even before the save where he was facing the wrong way and still kept the puck out of the net, the 25-save shutout and the 5-0 victory against Alaska Anchorage that ended the Badgers’ three-game losing streak.
Those were worth talking about, too, but Gramme’s first collegiate start was a big step after a move from his native Sweden before last season to play in the North American Hockey League. He had to wait 14 games into the Badgers’ season for it to happen, longer than appeared likely in training camp when coach Mike Hastings said no one had stepped forward to take the starting job.
But Kyle McClellan opened the season with impressive play and made Gramme wait longer for his chance. Gramme wanted to know where he stood in a meeting with Hastings this week.
“I didn’t ask when my game was coming, but I wanted to know that he believed in me,” he said. “Because I know I can play and I was just wanting to make sure he believed in me, too. So now I’ve got my game, and it went pretty good, so I’m happy about it.”
Hastings said he got the sense that Gramme was “a little sour” that he didn’t play Friday, when the Badgers lost 1-0. The coach didn’t take it as a disrespectful stance, but he let the rookie goalie know as they were leaving the ice after that game that his time was coming Saturday. That set up Gramme for a sleepless night of going through the potential scenarios.
“We had lost three games in a row,” Hastings said. “And I don’t think there was any fault to Kyle. But ‘Gram’ had done all the things you ask a young man to do in preparation to be able to play.”
Gramme, whose last game came last April for the Lone Star Brahmas of the NAHL, made 20 saves through two periods. Then things got hairy in the opening minute of the third.
Ben Almquist’s shot slowly got through Gramme’s pads, but Wisconsin forward Cruz Lucius was in position to collect the puck in a dangerous spot.
The Seawolves kept on the opening-shift pressure and the puck ended up on Maximilion Helgeson’s stick in front of the net. He worked around Gramme’s right leg and appeared to have an empty net in which to fire. But the goalie spun onto his left side, facing the net and away from the puck, and reached out his left arm along the ice.
It was enough to get in the way of Helgeson’s backhand shot under pressure from Badgers defenseman Anthony Kehrer and send it bouncing over the top of the net.
A no-look, sprawling save? Hastings said he was showing his age in saying it was “a little bit Dominik Hasek-like.” But every young goalie with access to YouTube knows about the untraditional, acrobatic saves Hasek made in a hall of fame NHL career.
“That was kind of like one of his saves,” Gramme said. “So I’m happy it looked like that.”
Gramme had to make only two stops in the final 19 minutes to complete the shutout and give his team reason to celebrate one of its hardest workers.
“The kid doesn’t complain,” said Badgers forward William Whitelaw, who scored twice Saturday. “He comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face and works his (butt) off, and no one sees that but us. For a kid to go out there and perform what he did in his first game and get a shutout, and you guys all saw that save — it was pretty ridiculous.”
The extra work with goalie coach Kevin Murdock that Gramme put in before getting to his first start paid off.
“Just to be ready for this moment and try to get better every day,” Gramme said. “Coming from juniors, it’s a big step. And especially all the talent that’s here, every day you just feel like you have to get better. Kevin has helped me so much to get better every day and be ready for this moment.
“I’m so happy to be here. It finally happened. I can’t believe it went like this, too.”