MADISON, Wis. — After 48 minutes of solid hockey, it finally looked like the defending national champions would right the ship and break out of their longest losing streak in almost four years. But in another cruel twist of fate for Mike Eaves’ Wisconsin Badgers, all of those good feelings were gone quicker than the Thanksgiving leftovers.
Michigan senior David Rohlfs and sophomore Andrew Cogliano scored within 27 seconds of each other to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal advantage, as the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines (11-3-0) handed the Wisconsin Badgers (4-9-2) their sixth straight loss with a 4-3 triumph in the College Hockey Showcase in Madison.
“Our goalie stole the game tonight,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “You don’t walk out of here feeling like you were the better team. You walk out of here feeling like you were lucky. We got a little lucky and they got unlucky.”
With Wisconsin up by a single goal midway through the third period, Michigan sophomore T.J. Hensick, who had scored his sixth goal in the second, brought the puck into Wisconsin’s zone. Hensick’s quick maneuver drew the attention of two of UW’s defensemen and goalie Brian Elliott, leaving Rohlfs wide-open. Hensick made the pass and Rohlfs capitalized for his ninth of the season.
Before Wisconsin could even blink, Michigan was on the rush again. With the puck coming off the boards, Cogliano fired a shot from the left faceoff circle that managed to trickle under Elliott’s armpit and put the Wolverines ahead for good.
“We have to put our chances in and obviously when you’re playing from behind on the road, that was a big third period for us,” Berenson said.
Michigan wasn’t out of the woods yet, as Wisconsin launched a full-out assault on the Michigan defense. However, goalie Billy Sauer held his ground. After an off-putting first period, Sauer regrouped to stop 25 of the next 26 shots that came his way, including 15 in the final period.
“I wish I would have played a little bit better earlier,” Sauer said. “I think the whole team was struggling, and I really thought I could have had the first two goals. So me playing big in the third I guess made up for it … . There’s a reason it’s a showcase, and we’ve got to show our team off.”
Much like the other games during the Badgers’ losing streak, it was the same story of the puck not bouncing their way or finding the back of the opponents’ net.
“We had about three open nets that we could have made an impact on the game had we bury one of those,” Eaves said. “We hit some posts again. It seemed like the last shot was going to win. It was an entertaining game to watch.”
One of the positives for Wisconsin was the return of sophomore winger Jack Skille, who had missed the team’s previous 11 games after hyperextending his right elbow in the home opener against North Dakota. Because of Skille’s presence on the ice, Wisconsin played one of its best opening periods of the season.
“[Skille] has such a physical presence with his, speed, size and shot,” Eaves said. “It gives you another dimension that we haven’t had here for awhile. It was definitely a boost that we needed and it was good to have him back.”
The Badgers struck first off a feed from freshman Blake Geoffrion, as Michael Davies flipped the puck between Sauer’s glove and pad for his fifth goal of the season and the early Badger lead.
Just five minutes later, Skille made a triumphant return to the Badger lineup as he led a 2-on-1 break for the Badgers. Skille executed a perfect fake to his linemate, a fake that Michigan defensemen Mark Mitera bit on, and Skille blasted the puck past Sauer for the shorthanded goal to increase the Badger lead to two at the end of the first 20 minutes.
“I think that was the worst period I’ve ever seen our team play, that first period,” Sauer said. “We just came out dead and they were beating us to every single puck. Every battle they were winning. They were coming out of the corners with the puck every time. I think in the second period we knew we had to bear down.”
The Wolverines did just that, cutting the lead in half just two minutes into the second when sophomore Tim Miller scored on a one-timer to put the Wolverines on the board. The Wolverines tied the score just past the halfway point in the period when Hensick converted on a Michigan power play and just like that, Michigan had drawn it to even.
Wisconsin answered with a one-touch passing sequence that found its way onto the stick of Davies. Davies spun and threw the puck to the front of the net, where Matt Ford was waiting and delivered, giving Wisconsin its last lead of the game.
In a battle of Big Ten conference foes, Michigan finally broke through after the Wolverines had lost their last three games against the Badgers. All it took for Michigan was 27 seconds and two lucky bounces of the puck.
“We feel like we were fortunate,” Berenson said. “We obviously didn’t get off to a good start and Wisconsin did. We were fortunate to get a couple of pucks past Elliott. He doesn’t give up many [and] we knew that … I don’t know if we bring the best out of Wisconsin or they bring the worst out in us, but that’s what you saw tonight.”
The College Hockey Showcase wraps up Saturday with Michigan traveling to No. 1 Minnesota to take on the Gophers while the Badgers host No. 6 Michigan State with both games beginning at 7:07 CT.