MADISON — Coming into this weekend’s series against Wisconsin, Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson stressed the importance of playing stingy defense, taking the raucous home crowd out of the game and not allowing the Badgers to get points on the board early.
But it took just 33 seconds into regulation for Wisconsin to find the back of the net. Freshman defenseman Josh Ess’ slap shot from the left faceoff circle gave the Badgers a 1-0 lead, one they wouldn’t squander for the remainder of the contest.
Despite finding success playing from behind last weekend against No. 7 Minnesota, the 17th-ranked Wolverines (2-2-1 Big Ten, 6-4-1 overall) didn’t have the same fortune Friday night against No. 9 Wisconsin (3-2-0, 8-5-1), losing, 7-3.
The matchup began with high-intensity play, with both squads creating quality scoring chances in the opening minutes. After the initial Badger goal, Michigan had five shots on goal and a power play opportunity less than four minutes in, but timely saves by senior goaltender Kyle Hayton kept the Wolverines scoreless.
After the shot onslaught, Michigan struggled to get pucks to the crease for the next 16 minutes. Despite attempting 28 shots in the first period — compared to Wisconsin’s 17 — they could get just 10 on goal. A swarm of Badger bodies in front of their own net led to 11 blocked shots and just five more Wolverine shots on goal the rest of the stanza.
With 10 minutes to go in the same frame, Michigan had its best chance of the period on a three-on-one breakaway, but couldn’t capitalize on the odd-man rush, with senior forward Tony Calderone’s backhander flying high and wide of the goal.
One minute later, a routine Wisconsin backhander trickled through the legs of sophomore goaltender Jack LaFontaine to give the Badgers a 2-0 edge they would carry into the first intermission.
To open the second period, Michigan had 1:08 left in a power play and just as Wisconsin had done one period earlier, the Wolverines lit the lamp almost immediately with the man advantage. Twenty-four seconds in, a cross-rink pass from junior forward Cooper Marody reached Calderone, whose one-timer from his knees whizzed past Hayton and cut the Michigan deficit to one.
But four minutes later, the Badgers responded with a goal of its own from sophomore center Trent Frederic to regain a two-goal advantage.
With 8:14 left in the period and following successfully-killed, five-on-three penalty, sophomore forward Jake Slaker came out of the box and had open ice between he and Hayton. His wrist shot ricocheted off the post and led to an immediate Wisconsin counterattack. Nineteen seconds later, the Badgers scored another goal — this time on the power play — that sent LaFontaine to the bench, replaced by sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne.
With 5:30 left in the second period, Calderone recorded his second goal of the evening — a wrister off another Marody feed — to get back within two scores heading into the final stanza.
The third period brought more physicality, with pushing and shoving after seemingly every whistle. Back-and-forth play ensued, until, with 13:31 left in regulation, Wisconsin found an opening and scored an insurance goal to increase its lead to three.
Nevertheless, the Wolverines kept chipping back.
Three minutes later, a goal from freshman forward Josh Norris was waived off after review due to incidental contact to the goaltender. However, mere seconds after the call, junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi slung a shot from the blue line into the net to again inch closer to tying the game.
But unlike last weekend against the Golden Gophers, it was too little, too late for Michigan. The Badgers staved off any other attempt at a Wolverine comeback, scoring an empty net goal and another 17 seconds later to ice the game for good.
“I thought we played much better than the score indicates,” Pearson said. “We had some great opportunities tonight, we couldn’t capitalize and then it just seemed like (Wisconsin would) come down and score a goal on us. But too many individual mistakes cost us and shots weren’t going in. … But we have to make sure that when they’re not going in, you have to be rock solid defensively. Unfortunate errors on our part led to easy goals for them.”