MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s struggles continued Thanksgiving evening in a 3-2 loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines in the annual College Hockey Showcase.
Led by a three-point performance from center Mike Cammalleri, Michigan utterly dominated the first 55 minutes of hockey Thursday night, before a late rally by the Badgers turned a rout into a competitive game.
Cammalleri set the tone for the game just 20 seconds into the first period on a backhand wrist shot from the top of the circle that found its way past Badger goaltender Graham Melanson to give the Wolverines a quick 1-0 lead.
“I wasn’t really facing the net and it looked like the goalie wasn’t ready for it,” Cammalleri said. “It is something you try every once and a while and I was lucky enough that it was a good shot and it just went off the crossbar and in for me.”
“You catch a bad break to start and just kind of we went into shock,” Wisconsin center Matt Murray said. “To be down a goal 20 seconds into the game everyone just kind of sat back on their heels. We didn’t come out playing.”
In the first two periods, Michigan outshot the Badgers 32-18 and seemingly had the rink tilted in its favor from the initial drop of the puck.
On six power plays in the first 40 minutes of the game, the Wolverines garnered 19 shots, while Wisconsin managed just three shots on four power plays over the same span.
“I told the guys at the end of the first period that if they were trying to make an honest day living they weren’t going to get paid for all but about five minutes of the first period,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said.
After being beaten in every facet of the game for the better part of three periods, Wisconsin showed signs of life at the end of the third period.
“We played well for most of the game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But then in the last five minutes the whole game changed.”
Trailing 3-0, Wisconsin cracked the scoreboard after wing Dany Heatley intercepted an errant Wolverine pass in the high slot and feathered a pass to wing Rene Bourque, who was uncovered below the circle. Bourque made a nice move in front and slid the puck past Michigan goaltender Josh Blackburn for his second goal of the season at 15:03 of the third period.
“We made a giveaway and they capitalized on it,” Berenson said. “Then they took a new life and we were on our heels the rest of the game. The last two minutes we played desperate hockey just to keep the puck out of the net.”
With just one minute and 17 seconds left in the game, the Badgers closed within 3-2 off a power play goal from wing David Hukalo. Alex Brooks started the play with a pass from the high slot below the circle to Heatley, who sent the puck toward the front of the net. With a scramble around the crease, the puck managed to find its way through the crease and Hukalo was able to poke the puck into the net before Blackburn could recover.
That was all Wisconsin muster, though, as Blackburn and the Wolverines staved off the Badgers’ chances the rest of the way.
“I think it was a sense of urgency,” Murray said of Wisconsin’s late-game rejuvenation. “Everyone on our team has got to take that urgency into the first period and the first shift.”
“The thing that hurt the most is Red after the game says, ‘If you had played like that for three periods you would have won the game,’” Sauer said.
The Wolverines took a 2-0 lead at 5:49 in the first period when wing Mark Mink concluded a furious Michigan rally on the power play with a shot from the slot that beat Melanson.
“Every team we have played here in the last three to four weeks goes to the net harder than we do,” Sauer said.
Michigan increased its margin to 3-0 at the 6:00 mark in the second period with a power play goal after a turnover in the neutral zone by Wisconsin. On the play, Wolverine center Mark Kosick took a pass from Cammalleri in the slot, skated into the clear, deked to his backhand and shelved the puck to beat Melanson.
“Kosick’s goal was a big goal,” Berenson said. “You didn’t think they could come back from a three goal deficit but they nearly did.”
Wisconsin, which has lost seven of its last eight games, fell to 2-12-1 in games against Michigan and Michigan State in the College Hockey Showcase.
“We know they are a great hockey team,” Cammalleri said. “I guess they are going through some tough times. It is nice to play a team when they are struggling, I’ll be honest with you, but I don’t see them as a struggling team. They can beat you any night, no matter how they are playing.”