MADISON — As the clock ticked down from six minutes to five, then from five to four, the crowd at Kohl Center couldn’t seem to relax. Every shot from the Michigan hockey team had them holding their breath, and every chance for Wisconsin had them clamoring for a goal.
But after two late goals from the Badgers, the crowd grew louder than it had been all night, and Wisconsin fans left the rink with a satisfying 5-2 win.
With the loss, the Wolverines (2-9-2-2 Big Ten, 9-15-3 overall) fell for the ninth time in conference play while the No. 20 Badgers (9-4-0-0, 16-10-1) earned the edge in the season series after the two sides split their two meetings back in December.
Freshman goaltender Jack LaFontaine started the game in between the pipes, and while he tallied one more save in the first period than Badger goaltender Jack Berry, he also gave up one goal to stake Wisconsin to an early lead.
LaFontaine slipped and landed on his back after trying to switch sides in the net, and Badger forward Trent Frederic took advantage. He picked up the puck off a pass from the boards and easily cleared it into the net around the halfway point of the first period.
“That’s a tough line. I mean, they’re as good as anybody,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They showed it again. They capitalized on their chances.”
With 3:08 remaining in the frame, sophomore defenseman Nicholas Boka took on two Wisconsin defenseman skating dangerously close to LaFontaine. But when Badger forward Cameron Hughes went flying into the boards behind the net, it was difficult to tell whether it was from Boka’s stick or Hughes losing his balance. Either way, Boka was placed in the penalty box for tripping.
The Wolverines’ penalty kill proved to be sufficient, though, making it out of the period without allowing another goal from Wisconsin.
Thirty-nine seconds into the second period, the Badgers were called for having too many men on the ice, and Michigan was sent to the power play. Wasting no time, junior defenseman Sam Piazza sent the puck across the ice to freshman forward Jake Slaker, who passed it to sophomore forward Cooper Marody, who then scored on a one-timer to tie up the game.
With 8:11 left in the frame, Boka was called for another penalty — this time for high sticking. Wisconsin came close to breaking the tie on multiple occasions, particularly when forward Grant Besse sent a puck ringing off the post.
But again, the Wolverines’ penalty kill kept the Badgers off the board. That is, until freshman defenseman Griffin Luce was called for holding.
A little over a minute into the Badgers’ power play, Luke Kunin sent the puck to Hughes, who managed to shoot it past LaFontaine for Wisconsin’s second goal of the game.
“Special teams, we were good,” Berenson said. “The power play was pretty good, the penalty killing was pretty good — they’ve got a dangerous power play. They ended up scoring, but they’re going to get their chances. I thought it was a step forward for our special teams.”
Neither team scored again until 11:12 was left in the third period. Freshman forward Adam Winborg broke the stalemate, jumping between a Badger pass and sending the puck up to senior forward Evan Allen. Allen, who was positioned right in front of Berry, sent a clean puck past the goaltender to tie the game at 2-2.
Frederic retaliated just a few minutes later, though, as he camped next to LaFontaine’s net. Kunin sent him the puck, and Frederic buried it past the goaltender before he could react, putting the Badgers back in the lead with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Two back-to-back goals from Badger forwards Jarod Zirbel and Seamus Malone later in the frame sealed the Wolverines’ 5-2 loss.
“The game’s not easy, you’ve got to battle through adversity throughout the whole game,” Marody said. “We’re playing desperate, we’ve got to play desperate now. … I thought we did a lot of great things, just a couple of breakdowns, and that cost us the game.
“But other than that, there were a lot of positives out of the game, and I thought we competed hard. And we’ll just try to take that into tomorrow.”