MADISON, Wis. — It’s not often a college hockey player chooses humility over individual accolades so quickly, without any prompting, protesting or investigating.
Though Wisconsin junior defenseman Jake Gardiner kept quiet, the assistant captain became the first UW defenseman to register a hat trick since Barry Richter did the feat against Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 27, 1992.
Instead, he told the Wisconsin Athletic Communications office his second goal was miscredited and that the real recipient should be senior captain Sean Dolan, who was positioned in front and had the puck flutter off his hip.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” said defense partner Justin Schultz. “He played a heck of a game, almost deserves the hat trick.”
No matter who got the credit, the night was an important building block for No.16 Wisconsin, as Gardiner’s two goals helped the Badgers erase two of No.8 Michigan’s three leads Friday night and earn a 4-4 tie in the first game of the College Hockey Showcase.
After the Badgers (6-6-3) were embarrassed by No.9 North Dakota two weekends ago and heartbroken against No.1 Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, Wisconsin finally got a point to show its resilience in a month of November that has them playing five ranked teams.
“We’ve been in every game with these top teams, and it’s a couple bad bounces and a couple not great starts,” Schultz said. “I think we are starting to figure it out a little bit.”
Wisconsin, with 10 freshmen on its roster, can skate with any veteran team in the country, as Michigan (8-3-4) boasts 13 upperclassmen, including nine seniors.
“It’s been a characteristic of this team pretty much all season,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “The resolve of the guys has been excellent.”
The Badgers still can’t win in overtime, going 0-8-18 since their last victory at the end of the 2007 season. One had to go back to October 2005 to find the last overtime victory at home for the program.
“I wore the red vest tonight in case we got into overtime,” Eaves deadpanned. “It didn’t seem to do much.”
More importantly for Wisconsin, after losing all three senior captains from last year’s national runner-up team and two elected captains in the off-season, Gardiner’s humility spoke louder than the statistics.
“He wants to be a big-time player,” Eaves said of Gardiner.
The last time these two storied programs squared off, Wisconsin needed consecutive power-play goals to erase a late third-period deficit in front of 55.031 fans at Camp Randall Stadium. The venue was different. The situation was similar. The results were almost exact.
Brendan Smith was the culprit last season on the power play, so it was fitting that Gardiner, who replaced Smith on the unit, scored two power-play goals to erase another Michigan lead, helping the Badgers go 3-for-6 on the man advantage.
“Penalty killing was not a bright spot and we lost the special teams game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, as his team was whistled for nine penalties. “We’ve played well against them in all the games we’ve played against them the last couple years; I thought we played a complete game. We just took too many penalties.”
One of the more balanced teams in the country, Michigan is tied for 11th in the country in scoring offense (3.50 gpg), but only has senior Carl Hagelin (7-9-16) averaging more than one point per game. The Wolverines flexed that scoring might with eight different players scoring points, but couldn’t respond to Wisconsin’s one-man wrecking crew.
“We’re pretty balanced, but we’re not satisfied with our production,” Berenson said.
Gardiner’s goal in question was a credit to fortuitous bounces. Simply trying to keep the puck from crossing the blue line, Gardiner’s shot deflected off two Wolverines skaters, icing the puck in its tracks and allowing Gardiner to skate uncontested from the right circle for a shot that clanged off Dolan and then the left elbow of the goal at 43 seconds of the second.
His next two goals weren’t so much luck as crisp passing by his power-play partners, plays that happily erased one-goal Michigan leads.
Gardiner got a feed from Schultz in the slot for a power-play tally at 11:31, negating the tip-in Chris Brown delivered just 63 seconds after Gardiner’s first. Gardiner’s third was another solid assist from freshman Mark Zengerle, who registered his second of the night and conference-leading 18th for an easy Gardiner tap-in at the right circle, tying the score for the last time at 49 seconds in the third.
“Going down to a 2-0 deficit just kills you,” Gardiner said. “There is no lead you can’t overcome. No matter how much you are down, you can’t give up. That’s our motto here.”
Defenseman Luke Moffatt registered a wide-open goal off a rebound on the post and senior winger Carl Hagelin broke a 0-for-25 skid on the power play with his tally to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead just 8:17 in to the game.
The Badgers, who are winless in their last six games, got their first sign of life when sophomore Justin Schultz dumped a puck past Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick to cut the deficit to 2-1 entering the first intermission.
“We definitely need to put our heads together as a coaching staff and a young team and figure out how the heck do we get ourselves to come out and play like we do in the second and third,” said Eaves, as UW has let the opponent score every game during the winless streak. “We come out and feel our way around a little bit, and you can’t do that in sports.”
Each goaltender was far from lights out, but both made critical saves at critical junctures. Hunwick (20 saves) made a sliding glove save to prevent another Gardiner goal and stopped sophomore Derek Lee at the doorstep in the final three minutes. UW goalie Brett Bennett (28 saves) got his first series-opening start and corralled a bouncing back at the left post that would have won it for Michigan.