MADISON, Wis. — The key to Saturday night’s game between top-ranked Michigan and No. 2 Wisconsin was which team would respond.
Both teams were coming off big losses Friday night, and that response would determine which team walked away with a split and which team went home winless from the College Hockey Showcase.
The Badgers won the response battle. They set the pace for the game, hustling to the puck and finishing their checks. In the end it paid off in the form of a 3-1 victory in front of 13,966.
“It speaks to the quality of guys in the locker room. It speaks to the leadership, and I couldn’t be more happy for the boys,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “One of the more enjoyable things to watch is a group respond like that.”
“We’re not very good right now, obviously. We scored two goals in two games,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “I can’t tell you we played poorly. We just didn’t show that we were better than either of these teams.”
The Badgers, who said that there was no ‘jump or urgency’ in Friday night’s game, went to work right away in the first period.
“We kept it simple and kept our feet moving and finished checks all night,” Andrew Joudrey said.
Thanks to four early Wolverine penalties, the Badgers had at least a one-man advantage for five straight minutes in the first 10 minutes of the game. Despite several close calls and nine shots on goal during the span, the Badgers could not capitalize.
The Badgers would, however, get on the board at 12:56 when sophomore forward Jake Dowell gave the Badgers the 1-0 lead.
“We knew that we could play better than we did last night. It was a lot of focus and a lot of intensity tonight,” Dowell said.
Michigan got its only goal of the game at the 18:41 mark when Chad Kolarik when he bounced a shot of Bruckler’s leg which then ricocheted off his stick into the net.
Montoya kept the Wolverines in the game through the first period, but the Badgers remained persistent and took advantage of special teams.
Special teams have come through for Wisconsin all season. Coming into Saturday’s game they were scoring on 22 percent of their power plays while allowing their opponents to score on just 10 percent of theirs.
That would be the case again Saturday. The Badgers scored two special-teams goals in the second period and stopped Michigan on all five power plays.
At 11:10 of the period, the Badgers cycled the puck on the power play, eventually getting it to Jeff Likens. Likens found captain Adam Burish with a swift pass as he flew towards the net, and Burish put it home past Montoya.
With less than three minutes left in the period, Joudrey stretched the Badger lead to 3-1 with a blazing shot for a shorthanded goal. He skated the puck into the zone and blasted a shot from between the circles which flew over the glove of Montoya.
“I think we just had a great attention to detail on the kills tonight,” Joudrey said. “We got a good break on the goal. It was the intensity and the blocked shots that enabled us to get that done.”
The Badgers held their two-goal lead through a scoreless final 20 minutes.
The game not only represented a matchup between the top two teams in the nation, but also two of the top goaltenders in the country. Both Bruckler and Montoya, first- and second-team All-Americans last year respectively, made some magnificent saves, but it was Bruckler who emerged victorious.
“It was part of the entertainment value that the people who were here tonight enjoyed,” Eaves said.
Bruckler finished with 23 saves, Montoya 25.
As the final minutes ticked off, Badger faithful began the standard “overrated” chant. After the game, Berenson agreed with the fans.
“The fans were right; we are overrated. There’s no question about that,” he said. “We didn’t measure up to Minnesota and Wisconsin.”
The Wolverines were without senior captain Eric Nystrom, out with the flu. Sophomore forward T.J. Hensick was also out, a healthy scratch by Berenson.
“I’m really concerned about [Hensick's] play away from the puck, his defensive-zone coverage and parts of the game he needs to learn,” Berenson said.
But the coach was not about to use the absence of the players as an excuse.
“We were without a player or two, but everybody is,” Berenson said. “We were lucky to win last weekend and we would’ve had to be really lucky to get by these games.”
The term “overrated” also may have described Wisconsin. The young team came into the week ranked second, which some had questioned — ahead of Minnesota, which swept them a few weeks ago. Either way, the Badgers made it clear that they were not concerned with the rankings at this point.
“As a coach, we talk about [rankings] very little,” Eaves said. “It was a focus last year, but now it’s not such a big thing for us.”
“To be honest, I don’t really look at the rankings a lot, and to be honest I really don’t care,” Dowell said. “That’s just the way we look at it.”
Whatever the rankings, the Badgers will try to pick up steam as they continue WCHA play next weekend, hosting Minnesota-Duluth.
For Michigan, it’s a long trip home before a home-and-home series next weekend with Notre Dame.