Last night, the Michigan hockey team could do no wrong in their convincing win over Wisconsin. Friday night, their fortunes were reversed as the No. 2 Wolverines (6-2-0 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) fell to the Badgers (3-5-0, 1-1) in a 4-2 loss.
Wisconsin scored first and never looked back, controlling the flow of the game from the opening puck drop. The Badgers were desperate to avoid falling even further below .500, and their effort reflected that.
“Tough game. We’re chasing the game all night,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They get an early goal just on a turnover and a breakaway. From that point, the second goal they get is just a real freak play.”
Michigan has struggled to defend in transition, tonight, the same problem presented itself. Just three minutes into the game, Wisconsin forward Caden Brown drove in with freshman defenseman Luke Hughes guarding him. Brown skated right past Hughes and while attempting a deke, lost control of the puck that somehow slipped by the Wolverines’ sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo. Hughes, who is normally a lockdown one-on-one defenseman, was uncharacteristically slow-footed.
As the clock died down in the second period, the Badgers struck again. Michigan sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau was caught in front of his own net and stopped a shot from the ice. Patiently, he attempted to clear the zone from his knees. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, his pass was intercepted and Portillo was beaten for a second time. The blame should not fall on Portillo, for both goals were flukey, but these types of errors marred Michigan.
The teams have very different records, but in the Big Ten, nothing matters until the two teams take the ice.
“We said in the locker room after the game, goals are hard to come by,” senior forward Jimmy Lambert said. “It’s always tight games, everyone’s solid defensively. We have to make sure we’re focused on what we’re doing.”
Five minutes into the third period, the Wolverines finally had something to cheer for. Sophomore forward Kent Johnson — who had been quiet all night — situated himself by the net on the goaltender’s glove side. He received a pass from Bordeleau and scored an unbelievable through-the-legs goal. He injected his teammates with energy and completely shifted the momentum.
But it didn’t stay in Michigan’s favor for long.
Shortly after, Wisconsin received another fortunate bounce. A missed shot caromed off the boards, slipped past Portillo and a crowd of Michigan defenders and onto Badger forward Max Johnson’s stick. He buried the puck into the wide-open net, extending the lead back to two.
Right when it looked like the Wolverines were done for good, freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich had an alternate idea. Samoskevich received a feed from Lambert and sniped a goal to cut the deficit to one. Similar to Michigan’s second goal, however, they were unable to capitalize further.
Wisconsin would tack on an empty netter to seal the deal, but the game felt over long before their fourth goal.
“Just very frustrating, not a good feeling to lose one like that tonight,” Pearson said. “But, you have to continue to work.”
The young Wolverines got a look at the rigor of a Big Ten schedule. Despite having their A-game yesterday, this conference makes teams play to the best of their abilities each outing. In order to navigate this tricky schedule, they must keep their foot on the gas and finish the job during the second game of the weekend.