ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A furious late third period comeback by Wisconsin fell short by just one goal Saturday night against Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase finale at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines held off the No. 15 Badgers’ late-game onslaught, killing the final 17.5 seconds with a six-on-four disadvantage for a 3-2 win to sweep WCHA and Big Ten foes Minnesota and Wisconsin in successive nights.
The two-win weekend was just the right salve for the wounds the Wolverines had been licking after an uncharacteristic 5-7 start.
“Obviously, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “You didn’t want to come off the game last night and then really be on your heels and be embarrassed because we knew Wisconsin would be pretty good from everything we’ve heard.
“They were, and we were up to the task. It was good for our team and it gave us some confidence. Our defense is playing better, our goalie is playing better and our forwards are chipping in and doing what they can to help us as well.”
“It’s another one of those games where I thought we did a lot of really good things,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We certainly had our chances. I think Blake’s (Geoffrian) going to have nightmares about a couple that he had. We had our chances to score and we didn’t. We worked our fannies off. Disappointing that we didn’t win, but we can hold our heads high.”
Carrying a slim 2-1 lead into the final period, Michigan played solid defensively in their half of the ice waiting for a chance to capitalize on an offensive opportunity.
That opportunity came at 11:52 when freshman Wolverines’ forward A.J.Treais grabbed a loose puck in the slot and feathered a pass to teammate Louie Caporusso in front of the net. Caporusso half-tipped, half-shot the puck by Wisconsin goaltender Scott Gudmandson, giving the Wolverines a little breathing room in the tightly contested game.
Less than three minutes later, Wisconsin’s offensive perseverance paid off when Badger Michael Davies slid the puck through a maze of players to Derek Stepan at the Wolverines’ goalmouth. Stepan lifted a backhand over helpless Michigan netminder Bryan Hogan at 14:23 to pull Wisconsin within striking distance.
After spending two more minutes killing a minor penalty, Wisconsin pulled goaltender Gudmandson and applied intense pressure inside the offensive zone, forcing Wolverines’ defenseman Chris Summers to take a cross-checking minor with only 17.5 left on the clock.
Wisconsin resumed the heavy pressure and Hogan had to make two big stops in those final seconds to preserve the Michigan victory.
“The nice thing about this group of kids is that they’ve been around long enough to know if you get one, you’ve got a chance of getting a second one,” said Eaves of his veteran squad. “That was the talk on the bench. When we got that one, it was almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We had some shots and gave ourselves a chance, at least, to tie it up.”
Hogan, who posted a shutout one night earlier against Minnesota, stopped 26-of-28 Badgers’ shots, including numerous crucial saves down the stretch.
“A few weeks ago, the bounces were going against him,” Berenson said of Hogan. “He was only getting 13 or 14 shots. You don’t want to see him have to make 40 saves in a game, but he had to be factor this weekend and he was. Last night in the second period, I thought he was huge and then tonight throughout the game.”
At the game’s outset, the predictably positional, tight checking first period saw few quality scoring chances outside of Badgers’ freshman Derek Lee’s shot off the post to Hogan’s left at the nine-minute mark.
Both team’s offenses finally paid a visit in the second period.
Michigan sandwiched special teams goals by Matt Rust (power play) and Luke Glendening (short-handed) around an even strength goal by Wisconsin forward Blake Geoffrian to take a 2-1 lead after two periods.
Rust initiated the scoring when he took a pass from Carl Hagelin in the right corner on the power play. Skating untouched to the front of the net, Rust found an opening to beat Gudmandson at 6:02.
Four minutes later, Badger Craig Smith beat a Michigan defender at his offensive blue line and skated in alone on Hogan. Hogan made the initial save off Smith. Diving to clear the rebound, Hogan cued the puck right onto Blake Geoffrian’s stick. The Badger senior captain made Hogan pay with a shot whistled to the back of the net at 10:08.
Playing at a four-on-three disadvantage, Wolverine Glendening got to a weak clearing attempt by Badgers’ defenseman Jake Gardiner and nearly beat Gudmandson from close range. On the resulting face-off, Glendening tipped the puck ahead to himself, stepped around a Badgers’ defender and blistered a shot over Gudmandson’s glove. The short-handed goal at 18:05 gave Michigan a late period 2-1 lead which they carried into the third period.
The exciting final period ensued and the Wolverines had just enough to pull out the victory.
The Badgers entered the game on a roll in College Hockey Showcase competition. In addition to spanking Michigan State, 7-3, in Friday night’s opening round of the Showcase, the Badgers swept both Michigan and Michigan State last season in the Thanksgiving holiday showdown.
Michigan, fresh from their own lopsided win over Minnesota, 6-0, on Friday night, came into the game looking for a little revenge for last season’s Showcase loss to the Badgers.
Of course, the Wolverines knew they’d still get another shot at Wisconsin in February, that opportunity coming in the outdoor Camp Randall Hockey Classic on February 6 in Madison.
The high quality game played by Michigan and Wisconsin at Yost on Saturday should serve as an advertisement for the outdoor re-match.
“It’ll entice it even more so,” said Eaves of the re-match. “In watching film, they’re a good team. I don’t know why their record is what it is. They try to do a lot of the same things that we try to do. In a lot of ways, it was like playing ourselves.”
Wisconsin (8-5-1) returns home to Madison next weekend to host a pair against Michigan Tech. Michigan (7-7-0) hits the road next weekend, traveling south to Columbus for a two-game set with Ohio State.