It took 11 years, but the Wisconsin hockey team finally defeated Michigan at Yost Ice Arena.
And it wasn’t even close.
At first, the Wolverines looked promising. They scored twice on a power play and ended the first period with a 2-1 lead.
Once the second period started, the optimism and heroics all came crashing down for Michigan (0-0-3, Big Ten, 6-8-0 overall). First went its lead, which eroded from a one-point margin to a three-point deficit. Then its captain left the ice. Senior forward Alex Kile was ejected for checking from behind in the final moments of the second frame, and he could do nothing to help his team as the Badgers (1-0-0, 8-7-1), eventually won the game, 7-4.
“It’s a tough loss,” said junior forward Sam Piazza. “Penn State we got beat. They just beat us straight up. Tonight I think partly was, we beat ourselves.”
In the early minutes of the first period, neither team could find its offensive breakthrough. Kile found himself with a breakaway opportunity, but failed to shoot it past Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry.
Then, at the 11:26 mark, Badgers’ center Seamus Malone was called for a hooking penalty, giving the Wolverines a one-man advantage. After a two-game series in which it failed to muster any power play success, Michigan’s five-man unit showed what it could do. Freshman Will Lockwood slapped a shot off the post and the Wolverines recovered. Lockwood found fellow freshman forward Jake Slaker behind the net who saw Piazza in the faceoff circle. Piazza saw an opening and fired it past Berry for his team-leading third power play goal.
But Michigan’s power play wasn’t done just yet. Wisconsin sent forward Aidan Cavallini to the box for a tripping penalty, giving the Wolverines a 5-to-3 advantage. With an entirely new group on the ice, Michigan converted once again. Martin recovered the puck behind the net and sent it to senior defenseman Nolan De Jong, who stood all the way at the Badgers’ blue line. De Jong fired a pass to Dexter Dancs, who sent it to Martin in the middle, and Martin slapped the puck in for his first career goal.
The Badgers, though, would not go down quietly. While Michigan killed its first penalty, its second would turn out differently. Wisconsin center Trent Frederic orchestrated a give-and-go with fellow center Malone. Malone found Frederic in the middle but could not convert on an impressive save by freshman goaltender Hayden Lavigne. Frederic then trapped the rebound and shot it in for his first goal.
In the second period, the Badgers dominated. Forward Will Johnson fired first for Wisconsin in the frame’s second minute, tying the game on a shot that bounced off Piazza’s stick and sailed into the goal. Wisconsin forward Luke Kunin took his turn next, scoring his team-best 10th goal on a shot from behind the Wolverines’ face off circle to give Wisconsin its first lead of the game.
If the Wolverines had one bright spot, it was Piazza, who scored twice, including once to interrupt the Badgers’ overpowering second period. Dancs skated across the ice on a one-on-one, but found his shot blocked by Berry. Piazza, near Dancs, grabbed the rebound and shot it back. Then with the defense surrounding him and looking the opposite direction, Piazza backhanded the puck into the net, giving Michigan an equalizer.
“I thought we started the game pretty well, we were up 2-0,” Piazza said. “We lost some momentum with the penalty, and for whatever reason, we have trouble with the second period. The whole year we’ve had some trouble.”
Two minutes later, Kunin nullified Piazza’s goal, scoring on a power-play shot from behind the Wolverines’ faceoff circle, his second of the night. Johnson became the second Badger to score twice, skating all around the net and slapping the puck in the right-hand corner of the goal. Cavallini dealt the period’s final blow. After a solid block by Lavigne, Cavallini fired it right past the freshman for Wisconsin’s sixth goal.
“In the second period it was all Wisconsin,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I can’t tell you, they were unearned goals. I thought our goalie played well, but we gave them outnumbered rushes. 5-on-2, 3-on-2, a bad change from our defense and we got trapped. … Everything that was going in was going in. It was going in too easy, really a poor defensive effort in the second period.”
While the Badgers scored goal after goal in the second, Michigan racked up penalty after penalty. Even before Kile’s tirade, the Wolverines had sent three men to the box. Fortunately for Berenson’s squad, its penalty kill unit continues to excel, allowing just two goals on 16 attempts Friday night. The unit even managed to kill off the entirety of Kile’s five minute penalty, which resulted in his ejection. Perhaps angered by the underwhelming performance of his team, Kile earned a checking from behind penalty in the waning moments of the second period and then was ejected Kile from the game for game misconduct, dealing the final blow to a battered Michigan team.
“You can’t take the number of penalties that we took, offensive zone penalties, needless penalties and expect to win against their power play,” Berenson said. “They’ve got too much skill and we’ve got to play a lot smarter.
“Alex probably is frustrated. He’s one of our captains, he’s expected to be a leader, and you want to do what you can do, but taking penalties doesn’t help us.”
In the third period, the Wolverines looked like a much-improved group, allowing only an empty-net goal scored by Badger forward Matthew Freytag at the 17:46 mark. Senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort replaced Lavigne and saved 11 shots. Junior forward Cutler Martin added in a goal for the Wolverines on a breakaway assisted by sophomore Brendan Warren.
Their improvement could be tracked to their conversations during the second intermission.
“It was an emotional intermission,” Piazza said. “Guys were getting fired up, but it was too little too late, unfortunately.”
Michigan lost its third straight game and allowed its highest goal total of the season Friday night. It will look to rebound Saturday night against the Badgers once again.