Michigan finally returns to Yost to take on No. 9 Wisconsin

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By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 28, 2014

Michigan and Wisconsin’s hockey programs have not met in Ann Arbor since Nov. 29, 2009, when Michigan won 3-2. But since then, the Wolverines have finished without a victory in just four meetings with the Badgers, two of which came at the Kohl Center two weeks ago.

The long stretch has Michigan itching to take the ice in front of a friendly crowd.

“It’s going to be a good team, a good test at home,” Compher said Monday. “To get the fans in here, it’s going to be a fun weekend.”

Compher, the Big Ten First Star of the Week, tallied five points — three goals and two assists — against No. 12 Michigan State and will likely be on the Badgers’ radar this weekend. He’s tied for second among Big Ten freshmen with 20 points, and tied for second in the nation with three shorthanded goals.

Riding Compher’s hot streak, the Wolverines (4-2-0 Big Ten, 12-6-2 overall) may have reignited an offense that ranked among the nation’s best in October. Compher anchored a line with senior forward Derek DeBlois and junior forward Alex Guptill, a trio that was broken up after midseason struggles. What’s more, Michigan’s newest line — one with sophomore forward Boo Nieves and junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe — was the difference in the game Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.

But unlike that of the Spartans, No. 9 Wisconsin’s defense ranks among the top 10 nationally in blocked shots and penalty kills. Though the new line pairings netted five goals for the first time since Dec. 2, the Badgers (5-3-0, 14-7-1) will provide a truer test of the Wolverines’ offensive improvements.

“Coach has talked about the fact that we have to block shots,” Compher said. “It’s something we did a good job of against Michigan State. It’s something that they do well, so we want our defense to move around and get shots on net, and for our forwards to be blocking shots.”

For two equally skilled programs, home-ice advantage could prove vital. Michigan has dropped only one game at home — Oct. 26 to UMass-Lowell. Meanwhile, the Badgers come in after losing their second home contest of the season to Ohio State last weekend.

“We’re not going to out-skill anyone,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We just have to play the right way, play stingy, and we have to be opportunistic.

Freshman goaltender Zach Naagelvort has been an exemplar of that opportunistic attitude Berenson preaches, and capitalized once again this weekend. Thursday, Berenson said Nagelvoort had earned his fifth consecutive start after he started in Madison.

But while the Children of Yost will certainly welcome Michigan back with open arms, there promises to be no love lost between these two teams.

Two weeks ago, facing an inevitable sweep in Madison, sophomore forward Andrew Copp shoved a Wisconsin player into the boards and onto his back. As he skated away, the Badgers swarmed Copp before punches were thrown and helmets went flying. The scramble resulted in four ejections, including Copp, DeBlois and Guptill.

“It’s not something I’ll be worried about,” Copp said. “I don’t know, I might have to watch my back a little throughout the series or whatnot, but it’s just something that happened at the time.”

The 51-day absence from Yost should guarantee excited fans, but it might not mean packed stands. With puck drop scheduled for 6:30 p.m., rather than 7:10 or later, Berenson is hopeful that fans will take note of the time change.

“This is going to be a fun weekend,” Berenson said. “We have to let everyone know so they get to the starts on time. Our fans will want to be there for the start of the game.”

With a stretch of seven games in six weeks, and 52 days on the road behind them, the Wolverines will finally get back into a Friday-Saturday gameday rhythm as they head into the thick of their Big Ten schedule.

—Daily Sports Editor Greg Garno contributed reporting.