MADISON, Wis. — The top-ranked Badgers had talked all week about avoiding a letdown. But talking isn’t playing and No. 1 Wisconsin was upset 4-2 by Michigan Tech in front of 12,718 at the Kohl Center Friday night.
UW started off on the wrong foot and never recovered as the Huskies used three special teams goals-including two short-handed tallies-and an empty-netter en route to the victory.
“We lost the battle of human nature,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “It’s tough when people are patting you on the back. It happens at every level-it’s tough to battle human nature.”
Just two minutes into the game Chris Conner, Tech’s sparkplug, jump-started the Huskies with a short-handed goal that knocked the wind out of the Badger crowd.
The Huskies never had to play from behind-something new to them-and staved off a late Wisconsin surge to snag the victory.
“Our effort was terrible tonight. I’m embarrassed [and] disappointed,” senior captain Adam Burish said. “You don’t have to look any further than [assistant captain Tom Gilbert] and I here. We didn’t have that group ready to play tonight. We weren’t ready to play either.”
With the Badgers on a power play in the early moments of the game, they lost track of Michigan Tech forward Conner. Known for putting away pucks shorthanded-he had eight shorthanded goals two years ago-the assistant captain didn’t disappoint.
Jake Wilkens found him for a breakaway and Conner drove in on goalie Brian Elliott, pulled the puck right to left and poked a backhand through the netminder’s five-hole to give the Huskies an early 1-0 lead.
“It was huge to get that first goal,” Conner said. “From there we had to keep working and [not] sit back.”
“It was nice for us to play with a lead,” Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell said. “You look at our scores we haven’t done that much at all. To get the lead and then keep that in a tough place to play . . . I thought we looked pretty solid out there.”
Wisconsin showed flashes in the first period, but definitely did not come out with the necessary fire. The Huskies outworked them early and never let up.
“Every team we play we have to match their work ethic and try and outwork teams,” Russell said. “We can’t have anyone having an off-night.”
Wisconsin, as an entire team, had an off-night.
The Badgers opened the second period with a small offensive spark. They brought the crowd back into the game and scored on a four-on-four at 3:45 of the period.
Ross Carlson passed to Tom Gilbert at the top of the right circle. The senior defenseman fired a shot that found its way through Michael-Lee Teslak’s legs to tie the game 1-1.
However, on another Badger power play, the Huskies found their second shorthanded goal on the night-this time it was Conner finding Brandon Schwartz for the goal.
Conner controlled the puck behind the net and got the puck to Schwartz who was streaking in towards the slot. Elliott didn’t see him coming until it was too late, surrendering a goal stick-side that gave Tech a 2-1 lead at 15:26 of the second period.
The Badgers were 0-for-8 on the power play on the night, surrendering two short-handed goals-just another bi-product of being outworked.
“It’s an issue of how hard you want to work,” Burish said. “If you get scored on shorthanded it’s because you’re not working hard enough, you’re relaxing. Both those goals were exactly that.”
The Huskies came out and snagged a two-goal lead early in the third thanks to a special teams’ goal of a different variety.
Nick Anderson took advantage of a rebound and made Elliott pay for it to put Tech up 3-1 with a power play goal.
Midway through the period Ross Carlson got his third goal in as many games to bring the Badgers back within one goal and once again energize the crowd.
For the first time all game, the Huskies were on their collective heels a bit, but it didn’t matter. They survived the surge and Schwartz put in an empty-netter with less than 30 seconds left to close out the game.
As odd as it sounded-with first place taking on last place-the better team won the game, and nobody could deny that.
“There’s some games where I thought we played better than we did tonight,” Russell said. “For us this was huge. To get confidence you need success.”
“They worked hard, give them credit,” Eaves said. “If you work hard you give yourself a chance to win-they outworked us tonight.”
Teslak had 31 saves in the game, gaining his third win of the season. Elliott made 23 stops and was dealt his first loss since Wisconsin’s season-opening weekend.
It was the first time the Badgers have given up four goals in a game this year.
Wisconsin will get its chance to respond when the two teams face off again Saturday night at 8:07.
“The most important thing is how we respond tomorrow night,” Eaves said.