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MADISON — The Michigan hockey team sports the second best scoring offense in the nation, the tenth best scoring margin of victory and two of the top ten scorers in college hockey. 

A well-oiled machine, the Wolverine offense functions best when it picks apart its opponents, sending pucks to the front of the net for open opportunities.

But that patented offensive play rarely reared its potent head as Michigan (10-6-1 overall, 2-5-0 Big Ten) fell to Wisconsin (8-8-0, 1-6-0), 6-3, as missed opportunities defined a Wolverine offense that had brief moments of gusto, but its inefficiencies led to numerous chances for the Badgers.

“I thought we came out hot and then we got satisfied,” freshman forward Rutger McGroarty said. “It’s two-nothing and then after that we just weren’t good.”

After a sluggish first half of the opening period for both teams, the energy momentarily shifted. Scoring a one-timer, McGroarty put Michigan up 1-0 and unknowingly renewed energy for both teams.

The Wolverines quickly expanded upon their lead via a goal courtesy of sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes. Momentarily, Michigan’s offense began to click and it had its strongest sequences of the day. 

Then the woes commenced.

“We just let them survive,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “Every chance they got, we kind of gave it to them. It’s the turnovers — not connected — which means no puck support and you can’t make the next play.”

The Badgers responded quickly as forward Charlie Stramel cut Wisconsin’s deficit in half, converting on a two-on-one rush opportunity. Sixty seconds later, forward Brock Caufield tied the game 2-2 on the powerplay. Forced to backpedal, the Wolverines were put on the defensive and clearly felt uncomfortable.

“I don’t even think it wasn’t us being connected,” McGroarty said. “I thought we were being soft and just weren’t playing hard enough.”

Wisconsin continued that pressure into the second period as defenseman Corson Ceulemans sent a wrist-shot from the point that bounced off a handful of bodies and into the back of the net. Boasting a 3-2 lead, the Badgers offense was firing on all cylinders.

Meanwhile, the Wolverine offense fell flat. Michigan’s decision making was sub-par as passes not only flew left and wide of their intended target, but often the intended target was the wrong one entirely. Missed opportunities — both unconverted and unattempted — stymied numerous potential chances. These missed chances had immediate consequences, as the Wolverines’ inefficiency left the door open for the Badgers to convert.

“You earn your own luck,” Naurato said. “And we didn’t tonight.”

A microcosm of the game as a whole, down one score on the power play, freshman forward TJ Hughes missed sophomore forward Dylan Duke, who sat wide open in front of the net. Electing to send the puck up the boards instead of in front — the Wolverines’ typical playstyle — the play evaporated and the penalty died.

Quick consequences ensued as a wrister from the point via Zach Urdahl collided off multiple bodies and sent the Badgers into the third period with a 4-2 advantage.

Finally, after more than a period of dormancy, the Michigan offense broke through early in the third as a sharp angle shot by freshman forward Adam Fantilli trickled past Wisconsin goaltender Ben Dexheimer to cut the deficit to one.

And in a moment where the Wolverines could’ve stepped on the gas, they were unable to capitalize as a tip-in by forward Cruz Lucius sent the Badger lead back to two and put the game out of reach for Michigan. An empty net goal in the waning moments of the game confirmed the result, sending the score to 6-3.

“I think we have to get a little pissed off,” McGroarty said. “We know we have it in the locker room, but everyone’s just got to be connected. We gotta get pissed off and it’s gotta come within the locker room.”

Despite the early goal, the third period transpired in a similar fashion for the Wolverines, who were unable to convert on two power plays in crunch time. In each case, missed opportunities doomed the Michigan offense, creating defensive breakdowns that powered the Wisconsin offense.

Against a Badgers team that has surrendered the most goals in the Big Ten, Michigan looked like a deer in headlights, and that resulted in its demise.