Senior forward Tony Calderone fired a shot last Friday night that found the back of the net, causing fans to leap out of their seats in a deafening uproar of cheers and applause. The Wolverines would go on to notch their first win against a top-10 team in the nation.
They won’t hear those cheers this weekend.
The No. 17 Michigan hockey team (2-1-1 Big Ten, 6-3-1 overall) travels to Madison this weekend to face off against No. 9 Wisconsin (2-2, 7-5-1) in the Wolverines’ second top-10 matchup in two weeks.
On an Olympic-sized rink that Mel Pearson described as feeling like playing on an ocean compared to an inland lake, the Michigan coach noted that the hostile environment will require a heightened level of play.
“We have to play better defensively,” Pearson said. “That can be from your goaltender to your penalty killing to just puck management, we have to really be sharp and really know where we’re putting pucks.”
While the Wolverines are coming off an impressive weekend against No. 7 Minnesota, the Badgers boast yet another high-powered offense that will give Michigan reason to be wary.
With six goals and five assists under his belt, Wisconsin forward Ryan Wagner should be the biggest threat to break through the Wolverines’ defensive line.
“We’ve got to make sure we get to the net,” Pearson said. “And on the other end, defensively, we’ve got to make sure we play between the dots and not extend ourselves out to the boards when we have to protect the middle of the ice.”
Pearson has made it clear in the past that he wants his team to improve defensively, but it would be hard to apply that same logic to the offense.
Spearheaded by Calderone and sophomore forward Jake Slaker – who both have seven and six goals, respectively – the Michigan offense ranks highest in the conference in goals scored per game with 3.90.
Conversely, the Wolverines are also tied for the second-lowest total goals allowed defensively.
To say that the matchup this weekend will be contentious is a severe understatement. Wisconsin is coming off a loss to Michigan State and is looking to avenge the defeat, but the question is whether the Badgers will be able to stop the inertia of a Wolverine squad fresh off a momentous weekend.