MADISON — From the opening puck drop, it was clear that the trip north was strictly business.
The No. 4 ranked Michigan hockey team (20-7-1, 11-6-0 Big Ten) controlled all aspects of the game en route to a 5-1 blowout over Wisconsin (8-16-3, 5-11-1).
“I was really happy with our start,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “The first 10 minutes was some of the best hockey we’ve played all year. We really controlled the play. We were prepared to come out and play tonight.”
Sophomore forward Kent Johnson and sophomore defenseman Owen Power were absent, but their production was still accounted for.
Freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich was particularly dangerous during the first period. He had two threatening shots on net, both of which required strong glove saves from Badger goaltender Jared Moe. Though, his best play came as a facilitator —not a shooter — when he passed up a slot look for an even better one. Freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards fired a one timer that freshman forward Dylan Duke eventually found and buried. Duke’s nose for the puck and fearlessness around the net have paid dividends all season.
Duke embodies the next-man-up mentality. He’s had a solid rookie campaign so far and expect him to take another step forward in the coming weeks.
“We’re a really good team for a reason,” Duke said. “We’ve got a lot of depth and guys that can step up, score goals and make plays. We miss Owen (Power) and Kent (Johnson) and we wish them all the best. But, we had to come out today and perform without them.”
The Wolverines cruised through much of the first period and appeared set on a one-goal lead going into the intermission. But a late interference penalty gave Michigan a power play opportunity. It was an opportunity that sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau quickly capitalized on. His shot took an unexpected bounce and ricocheted off the back of a Wisconsin defenseman and into the net, giving Michigan a 2-0 lead with just 3.4 seconds left in the period.
At the start of the second period, the Badgers showed life. Sophomore forward Brendan Brisson was charged with tripping and allowed the Wisconsin power play to go to work. The man advantage culminated in a wrap-around goal for forward Carson Bantle. Sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo was in good position, but the Badger forward sneaked it past his right blade.
The lead was cut in half, and the Wolverines were keen on fixing that.
Nearly three minutes after Bantle’s tally, graduate forward Luke Morgan recorded one of his own. The play started with sophomore forward Matty Beniers’ drive in on net. His backhand try wouldn’t go, but Morgan crashed the crease and poked the puck in.
Michigan wasn’t done, though, as Samoskevich eventually found the back of the net after several close tries. His top-shelf rocket extended the Wolverines’ lead to three and Wisconsin was forced to go to their backup goaltender.
Samoskevich had perhaps his best performance of the season, something his linemates were grateful for.
“He played a really good game,” Duke added. “He’s working hard and making plays, just making stuff happen. I was really excited for him and he really played great. He’s a great guy to play with.”
In the third period, tensions started to boil. Forward Tarek Baker crushed Edwards — who had his head down — and was called for a cross-check. Senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg sent a Badger into the glass and dislocated a stanchion. Brisson continued his fight-filled night with yet another penalty, this time for roughing.
Despite Brisson’s gaffs, Beniers would add another goal, Michigan’s fifth of the contest. With the score, the star center also became the fifth different Wolverine to record a goal. The victory was another for these road warriors as they improved 11-5-1 away from Yost Ice Arena. It’s a testament to Michigan’s confidence and focus that even in enemy territory, it can play stellar hockey.
“I thought our guys were prepared,” Pearson said. “They were dialed in.”