MADISON — They weren’t allowed to talk about it all week.
When the Michigan hockey team arrived in Madison, Wisconsin on Friday to practice, the Wolverines were fresh off a victory over Bowling Green the night before. Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t want his team to overlook the Falcons in a crucial CCHA matchup. So the players weren’t allowed to speak to the media about the Culver’s Camp Randall Classic until after Thursday’s game.
When the Wolverines’ silence was broken after their practice it was the happiest they’ve looked all season. Players and coaches alike were smiling, and the mood felt light on the eve of the big game.
“It’s kind of surreal right now,” senior captain Chris Summers said Friday night. “Skating around the ice, the first couple of laps in practice, it’s weird finding yourself skating in a football stadium — especially one this size. It’s pretty special. I remember skating the first lap and (senior forward Anthony) Ciraulo and I looked at each other and was like, ‘Man, I’m glad to be here right now.’ ”
That all changed when the puck dropped on Saturday.
The Wolverines were slow to start the game and Wisconsin jumped on them early. The Badgers had the first four shots in the game, and finished the first period outshooting the Wolverines 13-6. Michigan had taken six or fewer shots in just six periods all season, entering the game.
Rarely were the Wolverines outshot — something was wrong.
Whether it was the atmosphere of the crowd, getting used to the ice and playing conditions or something else, things weren’t clicking early for the Wolverines.
“Obviously there’s a lot of emotions the first five, 10 minutes,” Summers said after the game. “Pucks are going to be everywhere. I think the puck was everywhere all game. That’s the way the whole game went for both teams. You’ve got to fight back, that’s the way the game goes.”
Wisconsin used its early momentum to strike first, scoring less than four minutes into the game. The Badgers had a little help when the puck slid under junior goalie Bryan Hogan’s pads, through his legs and to a wide open backside of the net.
But once Michigan got into the game, the stat sheet started to even out. On paper, the game looked like it was even in all facets: faceoffs, shots, penalties. On the ice though, it was easy to see that Wisconsin was more composed than Michigan. The Wolverines were playing catch-up from the start and the scoring opportunities for Michigan were few and far between.
If it wasn’t for the individual efforts of two Wolverines, Michigan might not have scored a goal in Madison.
With about a minute remaining in the first period, junior forward Scooter Vaughan received a behind-the-back pass from junior Ben Winnett right in front Badgers goalie Scott Gudmandson. His initial shot was blocked, but Vaughan stuck with the play and backhanded his own rebound past Gudmandson for Michigan’s first goal of the night.
The second goal of the night for the Wolverines came midway through the third period. Freshman Kevin Lynch, who was active from the start of the game, ripped a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Gudmandson stick side for the goal.
Michigan didn’t look as though it would be able to string together a consistent enough of an attack to score, like the Badgers did consistently throughout the game. Both teams had their chances, but the Wolverines were more isolated and had fewer quality opportunities than the Badgers were getting.
And it all came to a head when Wisconsin scored its two power play goals late in the game with the same power play units and same systematic attack each time. The Badgers would win the game 3-2.
But Michigan was certainly feeling confident after Lynch’s goal.
“It’s a huge boost for the team, a great shot,” junior Ben Winnett said. “We go down on the two-on-two and he beats the goalie. At that point, we thought we were in very good shape.”
Turnovers and poor puck control plagued the Wolverines all game and Lynch’s goal gave the team a lead in the third period. Michigan’s slow start offensively had the team taking shots further away from the goal, but as the Wolverines settled down, their shots were coming closer in.
But if it wasn’t for Lynch and Vaughan, Michigan’s offense might have been non-existent on the scoreboard. And with all of the excitement leading up to the game, it turned into a bitter ending. They might not want to talk about that one for a while either.