The last time the Michigan hockey team came back from a three-goal deficit was 11 months ago, when the Wolverines went down 4-1 against Wisconsin and came back to win 7-4.
Friday night, Michigan found itself in the same predicament with five minutes gone in the second period. This time, its play was characterized by mistimed passes and miscommunication.
“I watched Wisconsin skate this morning,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They looked like they were flying, and they were ready. They didn’t have to go to school today, and our guys show up and have to reset and get caught up.”
But with the fourth line on the ice, sophomore forward Dexter Dancs hustled into Wisconsin’s zone, making a big hit on a Badger defenseman to retrieve the puck.
The hustle to win the 50-50 battle was something the Wolverines had lacked all night, and that play lit the fire under them.
Ten seconds later, Dancs found himself open with the puck in front of the Wisconsin net. He lifted the puck over goaltender Matt Jurusik’s right shoulder, kickstarting a whirlwind finish that gave Michigan a 6-4 win.
“That was a huge shift by the fourth line,” said junior forward JT Compher. “They jumpstarted the team. That was a huge shift, and all three of them got involved in the goal, and a great finish by Dancs.”
Less than two minutes later, freshman forward Brendan Warren banged home a rebound past Jurusik to cut the Badger lead to one. But not before Warren also missed a penalty shot wide — all in a matter of 30 seconds.
“It was a lot of pressure on him,” Berenson said. “You hope he scores, but I can’t tell him what to do. I don’t want to try to tell him what to do. He’s a good kid. He’s got a lot of support in this team … and he shows up and has a good game, regardless of the penalty shot.”
But Wisconsin didn’t break — at least not yet. The Badgers took advantage of a Michigan turnover in its zone, and forward Matt Ustaski was able to tip a pass from close range past Nagelvoort’s glove to push Wisconsin’s lead back to two.
Even then, Michigan never seemed to think they were out of it, controlling the rest of the game.
“Deep down, we always knew we could come back,” said junior forward JT Compher. “We’ve done it before. We have that confidence in the room in that we can score goals with the best of them.”
With seven minutes remaining in the period, Compher corralled a loose puck in Wisconsin’s zone and rifled it past Jurusik for his second goal of the year. Michigan wasn’t done, though. Just three minutes after Compher’s goal, senior forward Justin Selman tied the game, tipping a slow rolling shot from the point to send the Yost Ice Arena crowd into a frenzy.
All in all, the second period started slow, included seven goals and ended with the teams tied at four.
The third period saw much less action, with only one goal being scored. That came off the stick of junior forward Tyler Motte. With just over three minutes gone in the final stanza, Motte broke free from a Wisconsin defender, shooting the puck past Jurusik.
“Their defenseman kind of fumbled (the puck),” Motte said. “I just tried to get a quick shot on net. It kind of just flicked off my stick, but anyway it’s in the back of the net. It’s good. They all count the same.
Added Berenson: “Tyler’s a gamer. Who’s going to block a big shot from the point? Tyler Motte. Who’s going to get the puck out of the zone at the end of the game? Tyler Motte. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win the game. So we moved him from left to right wing and he doesn’t miss a beat and scores the game-winning goal.”
From there, Michigan fended off a furious Wisconsin rally, slamming the door on the comeback with an empty-net goal from freshman forward Kyle Connor to secure the victory.
While Michigan was satisfied with its victory, it was the fifth time it needed a furious third period comeback to win or tie a game, something Compher doesn’t want his team to get used to.
“I don’t think we want to be known as the comeback kids,” Compher said. “We don’t want to wait until the second or third period. We want to start at the beginning of the game.”
But the Wolverines escaped with a win, and with Michigan one or two wins away from the NCAA Tournament the past three years, the victory, rather than a heart-breaking loss, could be huge.