MADISON, Wis. — It was David versus Goliath, Round Two on Saturday night in Madison. After losing a close game Friday night, Michigan Tech came back ready for more on Saturday, and this time emerged victorious over third-ranked Wisconsin.
Tied at one going into the final period, 5-foot-7 forward Chris Conner took over, scoring twice, including the winning goal in the Huskies’ 3-2 victory.
“I think that we could have worked at a higher level,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “At times when we worked hard, we weren’t as smart as we needed to be. And at times, as a team, we were dysfunctional in our systems.”
“We went in and told the guys ‘Do not be denied tonight. Do whatever it takes to win,’” Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell said.
Sophomore Conner, one of the best-kept secrets in the country, notched three points on the night as the WCHA’s cellar-dwellers toppled the first-place Badgers.
“This was a huge win for us. We have had tough breaks lately and tonight we knew we had to play strong and we got the breaks,” Conner said.
It was not as if the Huskies had nothing to play for. They felt like they should have won on Friday after outplaying Wisconsin but had a potential game-tying goal washed out.
To make matters worse, their opponents admitted to lacking respect for the Huskies.
“Saying that it was like a bye week got us fired up and ready to play,” Conner said. “We showed them that we are not a pushover.”
The first two periods featured hard play by both teams as they traded goals, setting up the third-period showdown.
Wisconsin went on top first for the second night in a row on a goal from rookie Ryan Suter. He skated the puck in behind the net but then flung the puck off of the back of goalie Bryce Luker’s leg and into the net, giving the Badgers a one-goal lead midway through the first period.
Michigan Tech tied it back up early in the second when captain Brett Engelhardt tallied his second power-play goal of the weekend. Before this weekend the captain had been shut out in nine straight games.
Five minutes into the period, Engelhardt got tied up with Bruckler behind the net. With Engelhardt holding his stick, Bruckler nailed him with a left cross that did not go unnoticed.
Bruckler may have won that battle, but Engelhardt got the last laugh. 49 seconds into the ensuing power play, Engelhardt slapped a puck from the top of the left circle that whizzed by Bruckler, knotting the game at one goal apiece.
Wisconsin started the third period with a man advantage but could not get anything going and Conner got his first goal of the period less on another Wisconsin power play.
Down a man, Conner skated in alone and was dragged down from behind by Suter and Andrew Joudrey. Bodies went sliding towards the net and the puck crossed the line just before the net came loose. After a brief review, the goal counted and Tech took a 2-1 lead.
Wisconsin answered as Suter got his second goal of the night. Pete Talafous passed the puck to the point from behind the net and Suter one-timed it over the glove of Luker.
Suter was the only one to score on Luker after the freshman took over for Cam Ellsworth after the first period Friday night. Luker made 33 saves Saturday night for a five-period total of 54 for the series.
Michigan Tech was not going to leave the ice without the victory. Less than three minutes later Conner scored the game-winning goal. Frank Werner passed the puck across the zone and Conner stalled for a moment before netting the puck over the top of a sprawled out Bruckler.
The 3-2 win was just Michigan Tech’s fourth of the season and ended Wisconsin’s 16-game WCHA winning streak.
“The difference-maker tonight was Conner,” Eaves said. “As much as we tried to highlight when he was on the ice tonight to our people, he was just a difference-maker, and good for him.”
Conner leads the nation with 17 goals, including five shorthanded scores.
“I just go out and have fun and play my game. Whatever happens, happens,” Conner said.
“He is, I think, the most exciting player in college hockey,” Russell said “Instant offense, strong on the puck, responsible defensively, he is just one of the best in the country.”
Though still in last place, Tech’s win will serve as a warning to North Dakota, which plays at Houghton next weekend.
“This is the best league in the country and on any given night, any team can beat anyone and they showed that tonight,” Wisconsin senior Dan Boeser said.