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Just under nine minutes into the Michigan hockey team’s game against No. 7 Wisconsin on Sunday, Badgers’ forward Dylan Holloway had a half-step on Wolverines’ sophomore defenseman Keaton Pehrson. 

Holloway had just received a pass from forward Roman Ahcan, who, with a quick cut to the right on a clean zone entry, opened up space for Holloway to sneak in behind the Michigan defense. 

Holloway buried the shot, notching the game’s first goal and helping to propel Wisconsin (14-8 overall, 12-6 Big Ten) to a 3-2 victory over the Wolverines (11-7, 9-7). Alongside phenom forward Cole Caufield, Holloway anchored the Badgers in a game mostly dictated by the wealth of top talents on both sides. 

“They’re elusive, they’re really good hockey players,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It doesn’t take much for them, to give them open space to create some things. On Holloway’s first goal, we let them skate through the neutral zone and back our defensemen off. We didn’t do a good job putting some back pressure on him and forcing the play.”

That goal broke the tie in a game that, until then, had been relatively mundane offensively. Still, the two shots Wisconsin notched in the first half of the period — a 2-on-1 where forward Linus Weissbach deferred to Caufield, and Holloway’s goal — illustrated how the Badgers planned to use their best players to attack the Wolverines’ defense. 

Though mostly inactive in the first two periods, Michigan’s offense also ran through its top young talents. Its first goal exemplified this — freshman defenseman Owen Power scored on some nifty dekes off assists from freshman forwards Kent Johnson and Thomas Bordeleau, all past or projected first-round draft picks. 

But while the Wolverines struggled to sustain any offense, Wisconsin’s stars continued to apply pressure on the man advantage. With Caufield and Holloway together on a power-play unit, the Badgers easily generated offense when up a man, ultimately resulting in a second-period power-play goal for Ahcan, with Holloway on the secondary assist. 

“They were moving the puck quick, and I think (with) Caufield and Holloway on the wings, it’s tough to defend,” Pearson said. “I just think overall, those guys, you gotta respect their shot, and at the end of the day, we just gotta be better.” 

Early in the third period, Wisconsin forward Dominick Mersch deflected a puck in front to extend the Badgers’ lead to two, effectively putting the game out of reach despite a late Michigan goal from freshman forward Brendan Brisson. 

If anything, Brisson’s goal will likely just make the loss sting more for the Wolverines. To leave the weekend with a series sweep against one of the Big Ten’s top teams would have been a massive statement — especially coming off a three-week hiatus from games. 

Still, escaping with a series split is an overall positive result for Michigan moving forward. Barring a pair of late-season collapses, the Wolverines and Badgers are both in solid position to make the postseason. With the talent they each have, they should also be poised to cause some headaches for whichever teams they go up against.

In the end, those teams will face the same dilemma Michigan faced Sunday:

“They have so many weapons,” Pearson said. “Who do you defend?”

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