By Erin Lennon , Daily Sports Writer
Published January 11, 2014
MADISON — Trailing 3-1 with 30 seconds remaining in the third period, sophomore forward and alternate captain Andrew Copp could do nothing more to prevent his team from earning its fourth-straight loss. Noticeably frustrated, Copp decided he would make an impact in another way by shoving a Badgers player into the glass from behind after the whistle.
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It was a move that prompted a brawl that featured lost helmets and five ejections, including Copp, senior forward Derek DeBlois and junior forward Alex Guptill. By then, there was nothing Michigan could do, and the Wolverines dropped their first series of the season to No. 13 Wisconsin, by way of Saturday’s 3-1 loss.
“They’re a chippy team and we knew they were going to be chippy,” said senior forward Mac Bennett. “And it’s frustrating when you’re throwing pucks at the net and they don’t go in.”
Unlike Michigan’s last three losses, though, this game was characterized by solid 5-on-5 hockey between two of the nation’s strongest teams. Both had several chances, but the Wolverines missed one too many.
With the score 2-1 in Wisconsin’s favor after 18 minutes of back and forth hockey in the third period, Michigan’s hopes of escaping the weekend with a split were put to rest when Badgers forward Joseph Labate netted a breakaway attempt to push his team’s lead to two. With 41 seconds remaining, an apparent goal from freshman forward JT Compher was overturned, and it was too little too late.
The Wolverines came out faster than they had on Friday, dominating possession through the first period. Still through 10 minutes and an early power play, they had only one open look — a breakaway attempt by junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe nine minutes in — against a dominant Badgers penalty kill.
“Offensively, I thought we had more chances,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I think we had maybe a few more good chances tonight than we had last night, but maybe they did too. The goalies had to be good and they had to be lucky.”
After 17 scoreless minutes, the Wolverines were picked up once again by Copp who fired a shot into the upper right corner on Michigan’s second power play opportunity, tying the game at one. It was Copp’s second goal in as many games, and now has six in his last seven contests.
“We just need more guys getting into that groove, however that is,” Berenson said. “Some of it’s mental, some of it’s physical, some of it’s luck. But in Copp’s case, he makes most of his luck.”
Normally calm and proficient at stopping rebounds, freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort was unable to jump on the puck early and found himself backed into the net on more than one occasion. Just when it appeared the netminder would gain some momentum in front of a hostile student section crowd, Nagelvoort allowed his first goal of the night — a deflected shot from Wisconsin forward Frankie Simonelli. The freshman bailed out his team on more than one occasion, as the Badgers produced several quality chances in the frame.
“I can’t speak for Zach, but I would think if you’re seeing more shots you’re kind of more into the game,” Bennett said. “But, again, it’s frustrating.”
Nagelvoort and Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel contained each opposing attack, as a whole, finishing with 33 and 28 saves, respectively.
Again in the second period, when it seemed the Wolverines had settled down, Nagelvoort completed his best save of the night, but allowed a rebound goal to Wisconsin defenseman Chase Drake, and Michigan found itself behind for the second time, 2-1.
“We always put more pressure on our team to play better defense,” Berenson said. “The goalie is not one of the defensemen, but as a team we have to play better defensively, so that’s a work in progress.”
The same problems that plagued the Wolverines in Friday’s loss haunted them in the second period. Michigan had a handful of grade-A opportunities late in the frame, including three on its third power play with three minutes remaining. And though the Wolverines’ shot selection was much improved, they couldn’t find the back of the net thanks to lights-out goaltending by Rumpel.
Saturday night’s matchup was more than an opportunity to split a series with a formidable Big Ten opponent. It was a chance to prove that its past three losses were not the team it would be by the end of the season, and that it was still the young, exciting Michigan of October and November.