With the puck passed into sophomore defenseman Owen Power’s feet, it looked like Wisconsin had broken up the Michigan hockey team’s attack. Power stood in the slot trying to regroup as the Badgers edged toward him.
In a split second, Power turned that mistake into the Wolverines’ first goal of the night. Regaining control of the puck with a shift to his right, Power found sophomore forward Kent Johnson wide open on the right side of the net. Johnson easily deposited the first goal of the game.
“Most people would have tried to shoot that puck,” Michigan coach Mel Pearon said. “For him to see Kent and read that, that speaks to his hockey IQ and his offensive instincts.”
The No. 2 Michigan (6-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) offense came from puck control, culminating in a 3-0 win over Wisconsin (2-4, 0-1). By extending their possession time, the Wolverines put the Badgers on their heels throughout Thursday’s game.
The Badgers struggled to break up Michigan’s possessions early on. Goaltender Jared Moe kept them in the game with a stellar performance in the first period, stopping 17 shots — many of which came from the Wolverines’ top six.
Michigan leaned on its bottom defensive pairing of junior Jay Keranen and senior Jack Summers throughout the first period, and the duo matched up well against the aggressive forecheck of Wisconsin’s fourth line. That poise broke up the Badgers’ scoring threats and set up clean zone exits for the Wolverines’ forwards.
Freshman defenseman Luke Hughes made many effortless passes in that transition game. When Wisconsin’s top line tried to dump the puck deep or make cross crease passes, Hughes put his stick in the way and comfortably moved the puck to the wings.
Despite playing without the puck for much of the night, the Badgers earned plenty of high-quality chances. With strong net-front presences from forward Roman Ahcan on the power play, Wisconsin created meaningful scoring opportunities out of limited puck possession.
Those screens troubled Michigan all night, and the Badgers used them to maximize the outside shots the Wolverines gave them. On his way to a shutout, sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo had to track the puck through multiple bodies, and those players challenged for the ensuing rebounds. His athleticism gave him the upper hand when shutting down those opportunities.
“(Portillo’s) learned how to compete,” Pearson said. “How to work through traffic, and how to find loose pucks.”
Michigan kept up its offensive pressure when it took penalties. Senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe facilitated multiple shorthanded opportunities, sprinting for two breakaways in the second period — one alongside senior forward Nolan Moyle. Playing down a man didn’t discourage the Wolverines from keeping the puck and attacking, though, and the Badgers’ backcheck gave them no reason not to.
That lack of defense opened up opportunities for Michigan to strike throughout the game. Johnson and sophomore forward Matty Beniers assisted on a backhander from senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg after a series of crisp passes in the end of the second period.
“(Beniers) had the lane to me, I kind of saw (Blankenburg),” Johnson said. “Luckily (Wisconsin’s) guys sprinted out at me so I knew if I got it to him he’d have a good chance, and a great finish by him.”
Power added another goal three minutes into the third period, shooting the puck between three Badgers near the left circle after they failed to clog Michigan’s passing lanes.
Tempers flared as Wisconsin struggled to create quality possessions. Halfway through the third, senior forward Jimmy Lambert and Badgers’ forward Ryder Donovan scrummed in front of the penalty box, slamming each other down to the ice. Both were ejected with seven minutes left in the game.
In the final minutes, Wisconsin generated a rare stretch of consistent possession, but Portillo saved every chance created. Michigan’s possession control put the game out of the Badgers’ reach, and Michigan skated off the ice with both a win and a step toward finding itself.
“We’ve got to establish some identity,” Pearson said. “ … We gotta get some of that (early season) mojo back. For the most part, we did tonight, but we’re a young team and we veer away from how we need to play a little bit here and there.”