ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Wisconsin stretched its unbeaten streak to nine games Friday with a 3-1 victory over Michigan that ranked as one of the biggest wins in the program’s recent history.
It was the first time Wisconsin (7-3-3 overall, 3-2-3 WCHA) beat Michigan (9-4-0 overall, 5-3-0 CCHA) since 1993, the inaugural year of the annual College Hockey Showcase.
Senior Dan Boeser called the win “huge” and said it was one of the most satisfying of his career. Coach Mike Eaves agreed.
“You would have to say it would be in the same category as Minnesota at home,” Eaves said, comparing the game to the Badgers’ Nov. 15 win over the rival Golden Gophers. “This is a nationally ranked team, and we are on the road, so that brings a little more special emphasis to this victory.”
Sophomore forward Ryan MacMurchy scored the game-winner and defenseman Jeff Likens helped set up the play, making amends for a second-period giveaway that led to Michigan’s goal.
“We could have fallen in the tank there when that puck bounced over Jeff’s stick,” Eaves said. “But you know what, his teammates went up to him and said, ‘Hey, too bad. Get it next time.’ We came back out, and everybody grabbed the rope and pulled in the same direction.”
The Badgers opened the scoring near the end of the first period, when Boeser skated in, pulled up near the left circle and fired. The puck ricocheted off the crossbar and dropped in behind Michigan goaltender Al Montoya. Robbie Earl assisted on the goal.
The Badgers held the lead until the final minute of the second period, when Michigan’s Jason Ryznar scored after Likens missed a pass from defense partner Andy Wozniewski. Ryznar broke in alone on Bernd Bruckler, made a move and slid the puck softly through Bruckler’s five-hole to tie the game at one.
MacMurchy beat Montoya on the power play at 12:21 of the third period to put Wisconsin back on top, and Rene Bourque added an empty-netter.
It was Michigan’s second straight loss, and the third game in which it struggled on the power play — the team’s strong point earlier in the season. Montoya made 23 saves.
“I just think they beat us at our own game–they created turnovers; they got good chances,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We couldn’t get a good flow to our game. We weren’t skating well. We weren’t shooting well. We couldn’t get shots through when we did have the puck.”
Wisconsin was coming off of a 2-2 tie against Colorado College last weekend. The Badgers led 2-0 in the third period of that game before Colorado College came back.
“That was definitely in our minds,” Boeser said. “We blew a two-goal lead in the third period last Saturday, and we had a one-goal lead in this game, and it was definitely in our minds. We were thinking about it, and there was no way we were going to give up this one.”
The Badgers are 6-0-3 in their last nine games after going 1-3 in their first four games. Eaves said the turnaround is due in large part to his junior goaltender. Bruckler, one of the team’s few veterans, made 23 saves Friday, including a sprawling save against Matt Hunwick, who had a great chance on a breakaway.
“First of all, very early in the season, our goalie wasn’t as good as you saw tonight, and that’s where it starts,” Eaves said. “After the first two games, he got it going. He has allowed us to make mistakes, but not have them be costly mistakes, like goals against. He’s made big saves at key times that allow our young kids to say, ‘Okay, that’s by us now, let’s start to play.’”
The Showcase wraps up Saturday night, when Wisconsin takes on Michigan State in East Lansing and Michigan hosts Minnesota.