MADISON, Wis. – Seeing the team’s top point contributors banging hard at a loose puck at the front of Michigan’s net, junior defenseman Chase Drake was confident that the goal horn was going to buzz before he could reach the right circle.
Imagine his surprise when the puck didn’t go in after multiple attempts, and bounced cleanly out of the scrum and onto his stick.
“(Assistant) coach (Matt) Walsh has been talking with us to pick our spots at the right moment,” said Drake. “I picked it.”
No. 14 Wisconsin picked the right moments to land the momentous blows for the second straight night, as Drake’s game-winner late in the second period was the difference in the Badgers’ 3-1 victory over No. 8 Michigan in front of a season-high 14,273 fans.
Wisconsin (13-6-1, 4-2-0-0 Big Ten) never trailed for the second straight night, getting a first-period goal from senior captain Frankie Simonelli and having junior Joseph LaBate end the drama with a rocket shot from the left circle.
LaBate’s goal beat Zach Nagelvoort (34 saves) glove side to extend the lead to 3-1 with 1:59 remaining, and finish off UW’s first sweep over a ranked opponent since last March.
“This is a big time one,” said Simonelli. “We took some good growth this week. We went through a lot as a team throughout the week in practice, and it paid off on the weekend. It definitely was a stepping stone toward where we need to be and the championship-caliber hockey we need to be playing.”
The Badgers’ best series of the year might not have happened if it wasn’t for Drake’s second collegiate goal in his 40th game. The Badgers had missed several prime scoring opportunities in the opening 30 minutes, but never fully controlled tempo until after the defenseman’s goal at 12:04.
“That was a huge goal to give us the lead, and I think we were just riding the energy of the arena,” said LaBate, as Wisconsin improved to 10-0 when leading after two periods. “It was a packed house. You can feel that when you are on the ice. You can feel the excitement the crowd is giving you, and the whole team just built off that.”
Those two tallies were more than enough for junior goalie Joel Rumpel, who confounded Michigan (10-6-2, 2-2-0-0 Big Ten) with his play all weekend. After stopping 27 shots Friday, Rumpel made 28 saves Saturday, including a handful of one-on-one or clutch saves to protect the lead.
“I thought he was sharper in his movements,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “He was good.”
Drake’s fortuitous bounce epitomized Michigan’s weekend. A night after the Wolverines were put behind because of two “junk” goals, as coach Red Berenson called it, in the first period, Michigan was skating with momentum in the second, outshooting the Badgers 11-8 for the 20 minutes, but didn’t have anything to show for it.
“The same thing as yesterday, we can’t be waiting until the third to make our final stand,” said senior winger Luke Moffatt. “We need to start getting out of ahead of teams earlier in the game.”
Wisconsin peppered Michigan’s defense early, outshooting the Wolverines 15-6, and scored the game’s first goal when winger Jedd Soleway screened Nagelvoort long enough to allow Simonelli to zip a stoppable puck into the net.
Unlike the night before however, when Michigan didn’t counter until five minutes remained, sophomore Andrew Copp’s power-play blast from the right circle tied the score at one.
That was it for the good news for the Wolverines, who missed a bevy of opportunities on the man advantage and even strength and even had a goal waved off with 41 seconds left when Copp interference with Rumpel in the crease.
That tally would have brought Michigan back within one and erased LaBate’s goal. Instead, it extended the Wolverines’ winless streak to five games and their losing streak to four.
“We need to learn to fight back from behind,” Mofatt said.
Fight they did, as a scrum broke out in the final 33 seconds when Copp hit senior Mark Zengerle after the whistle and UW players came to their teammate’s defense. Five roughing penalties were given out and four players were sent to the showers early.
It was ironic, considering the Wolverines landed more shots during the melee than their eight-shot third period. Eaves called in competitiveness while Berenson called it disappointing.
“It looks like we don’t (like them),” said Berenson. “Looks like somebody doesn’t like somebody.”
The two teams meet in Ann Arbor in three weeks.