MADISON — It wasn’t exactly the type of weekend most would expect from the top-ranked hockey team in the country.
No. 1 Michigan (7-1-0 CCHA, 9-4-1 overall) appeared overwhelmed against No. 2 Wisconsin (7-3-0 WCHA, 10-4-0) and dropped a 3-1 decision on Saturday at the Kohl Center. The previous night, the Wolverines fell at No. 3 Minnesota (6-2-0 WCHA, 10-3-0), 5-1. It was the second straight year Michigan was swept in the College Hockey Showcase.
But Michigan coach Red Berenson wasn’t so shocked at his team’s consecutive losses.
“We didn’t know if we would come in and have a good weekend or not,” Berenson said. “We didn’t know how good we were. We would’ve had to be really lucky to get by these games. ”
On Saturday, Wisconsin captain Adam Burish came up with the game-winning goal at 11:10 of the second period. With the Badgers on the power play, forward Joe Pavelski moved the puck to defenseman Jeff Likens at the bottom of the right circle. Likens fed a cross-ice pass to Burish, who tapped in his third goal of the season from the left side of the crease, beating Michigan goalie Al Montoya stick side.
The Badgers had taken a 1-0 lead 12:56 into the opening period. After Michigan forward David Rohlfs turned the puck over deep in his own zone, Wisconsin forward Nick Licari took the puck and sent it to Jake Dowell, who was waiting in front of the Michigan net. Dowell bested Montoya for his seventh goal of the season.
But it took less than six minutes for the Wolverines to knot the score. Freshman Chad Kolarik beat Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler low to the stick side after taking a pass from junior Jeff Tambellini while streaking down the ice. Following a slashing penalty on Wisconsin’s Ryan MacMurchy with under a minute to go in the first period, the momentum was with Michigan.
Despite entering the second frame short-handed, the Badgers responded. After killing off MacMurchy’s penalty and fighting through another man disadvantage when Tom Gilbert was called for tripping, Michigan forward Milan Gajic was sent to the sin bin for high-sticking. Burish capitalized with his game-winner.
“We didn’t wilt,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said of his team’s resiliency in the second. “We came out and had a great start to that period.”
The Badgers put the game out of reach six minutes later at 17:20. MacMurchy and Davis Drewiske assisted on Andrew Joudrey’s short-handed goal. Joudrey skated into the Michigan zone on the right side, cut to the high slot, and fired the puck between two Michigan players before beating Montoya glove side. The goal gave Wisconsin a 3-1 lead that would hold up as the final score.
“The short-handed goal was a huge goal,” Berenson said.
The third period was mostly uneventful, as the Badgers sat back in their zone to protect their advantage, while Michigan failed to mount many serious offensive attacks.
The Wolverines’ ineptitude came just a night after they were thoroughly dominated by Minnesota. The Golden Gophers jumped out of the gate for a quick 4-0 first period lead and never looked back against a reeling Michigan squad. After the second game of the weekend, Berenson made it clear that he wasn’t happy with what he saw from his team over the weekend.
“We scored two goals in two games,” Berenson said. “Whether you can measure it by the power play, the penalty killing, goals-against, shots, chances for, chances against, turnovers, hits, faceoffs — I mean, all the stats — we’re not very good.”
Berenson admitted that the team may have fallen victim to some of the hype surrounding the team and it’s top-seed ranking.
“We didn’t show that we were better than either (Minnesota or Wisconsin),” he said.
Michigan’s poor play on Saturday was partly caused by the absences of senior captain Eric Nystrom and sophomore forward T.J. Hensick. Nystrom took the night off due to illness, but Berenson benched Hensick — Michigan’s leading scorer — because of weaknesses in his off-the-puck and defensive play. Eaves, for one, was impressed with the statement his coaching counterpart made by sitting such an important player in a game of such magnitude.
“I think (sitting Hensick) is a good thing,” Eaves said. “I think it builds credibility within your team, it creates the habits that you want from your team and I think you’re going to be a better team at the end of the year because of the discipline that you’re setting right now.”
But Michigan alternate captain Brandon Rogers was more concerned about the Wolverines of the present after the weekend debacles.
“If you don’t put your best foot forward against the top teams in the country, the results are going to be like they were,” Rogers said. “It’s up to everybody to do their job, and we didn’t get it done. I think everybody’s just got to compete hard and try to outwork the other team, and we didn’t get the results we wanted this weekend.”