HOUGHTON, Mich. — The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers learned first hand what Denver and Colorado College already knew: Playing at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena is-unlike years past-no guaranteed win this season.
Michigan Tech killed off an early five-on-three power play before getting goals from a pair of unlikely sources to keep their hopes at hosting first round playoff action alive, prevailing 2-0 over yet another ranked opponent.
“Wisconsin’s a team that comes out hard and plays that way for 60 minutes,” said Huskies assistant coach Pat Mikesch. “The players knew that they had to come out hard and match the Badgers’ intensity.”
The Huskies (14-14-5 overall, 9-11-5 WCHA) managed to keep the puck away from sophomore goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak for nearly the first seven minutes of the game. The Badgers did get a good opportunity for a goal when assistant captain Jeff Likens snuck behind the Husky defense and get a couple of good chances, but Teslak came up big.
The Badgers (14-16-5l, 11-12-2) had a five-on-three for 1:02 midway through the period, but Tech’s sophomore defenseman Geoff Kinrade nearly single-handedly shut down the power play with a fantastic individual effort.
“We had worked on the break out on the power play,” said Badgers head coach Mike Eaves. “For some reason we got away from that tonight.”
On their third power play of the period, the Huskies struck gold as freshman forward Ryan Bunger netted his first power play tally of the season at the 16:26 mark.
Co-captain Mike Batovanja moved the puck out the point to freshman defenseman Eli Vlaisavljevich, who fired the puck just to the left of Badger goaltender Brian Elliot. Bunger was right there to redirect the shot past Elliot and into the back of the net.
“The penalty kill gave us the momentum,” said Bunger. “Eli took a great shot, and I was able to tip it in. I was supposed to give Eli a stick to shoot at, and that’s all I tried to do.”
The second period continued in much the same manner that the first period ended, with a lot of penalties going both ways. The teams combined for some eighteen minutes in penalties.
“Both teams play a very physical style of game,” said Mikesch. “It caused a lot of whistles and some penalties, but we felt it was still going to come down to who got the bounces.”
Junior forward Matthew Ford had a great opportunity from the slot to Teslak’s left, but Teslak came up big.
On the power play, junior winger Tyler Shelast nearly gave the Huskies a two-goal lead, but his tip off a shot from Kinrade was stopped by Elliot.
Late in the period, the Badgers nearly evened the game. Ford took a pass and ripped a wrist shot. Teslak stood his ground and came up with a huge glove save, keeping the Huskies in the lead.
“They just compete,” said Teslak. “With the goaltending they have, that’s what they have to do.”
Just over a minute into the third period, freshman center Aaron Bendickson found himself with the puck in front of Teslak, but he couldn’t find a chink in Teslak’s armor.
The Huskies opened a two-goal lead when Bunger nearly struck again. Assistant captain Tyler Skworchinski sprung Bunger from just over the Huskies’ blue line, and Bunger took the puck to the net hard, but was turned away by Elliot.
Sophomore forward Justin St. Louis finally gave the Huskies the insurance they’d need to finish off the Badgers when he picked up a rebound and backhanded it past Elliot 8:16 into the third.
Fellow classmate, defenseman John Schwarz, fed Malcolm Gwilliam, yet another sophomore, who unloaded a blistering slap shot that beat everybody but the crossbar cleanly. However, the puck rebounded clear out to St. Louis, who pounced on it for his second goal of the season.
“It was a big monkey off my back,” said St. Louis. “Malcolm’s shot took a big rebound out to me and luckily I was able to bury it.”
Senior center Jake Dowell was stopped on his attempt to cut the Huskies’ lead to one when snuck in close to Teslak, but again Teslak was equal to the task. Ford also had a golden opportunity, but was again rejected by the Huskies’ hot netminder.
With just under a minute to go, Eaves called a time out to rest his troops and get Elliot out of the net. The Huskies responded to the challenge of the extra attacker by keeping the puck to the boards, and away from Teslak.
Teslak finished the game with 31 stops for his eighth win and third shutout of the season. The shutout puts him into a tie for second in school history for shutouts in a season. It was the first by a Huskies team against the Badgers since November 16, 2001, and first at home since November 12, 1993.
“This is the first shutout that I can actually enjoy,” said Teslak. “We couldn’t let ourselves to get down against Wisconsin because they are so good defensively.”
Elliot stopped 22 Huskies shots in the loss.
The Huskies finished the game one-for-eight on the man advantage while holding the Badgers to zero-for-six.
The Huskies improved their home record in 2007 to 5-0-2. On the season, the Huskies are 9-4-3 at home on the season with one regular season match to go.
With the win, the Huskies move to within a point of the Badgers for sixth in the WCHA. The teams will square off again tomorrow night in the rematch.