Wisconsin’s Mersch answers postseason doubters with two-goal outing

Wisconsin celebrates Michael Mersch’s go-ahead goal late in the second period (photo: Jim Rosvold).

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For all the success Michael Mersch has seen in his four years at Wisconsin, the one area he hadn’t made an impact was in the postseason.

Any questions about the Badgers senior forward’s playoff impact were likely answered Friday.

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Mersch had both goals in Wisconsin’s 2-1 Big Ten Tournament semifinal win over Penn State, as UW’s big guns shone at the Xcel Energy Center.

Mersch entered the matchup with the Nittany Lions with one goal and three assists in 12 career postseason games, but broke through twice in the second period against Penn State.

“Yeah, it was something that’s always been in the back of my head,” Mersch said. “You want to contribute to your team, especially at crunch time at the end of the season.”

“I know that there was questions about Michael’s production at playoff time,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “And offense is always a thing that’s talked about at playoff time, whether a person’s clutch, or that type of thing. Offense is a real finicky type of thing; it comes and goes. It’s a creative thing.”

A 20-goal scorer in back-to-back seasons, Mersch scored the game-winner on the power play, with Nic Kerdiles firing a cross-ice pass to Mark Zengerle at the bottom of the right circle. Zengerle centered the puck and Mersch put a stick on it to up Wisconsin up 2-1, his 22nd goal of the season.

The first goal came on a nice feed from linemate Jefferson Dahl, who passed it across the ice from the left wing to Mersch on the opposite side. The winger took it in across the crease and poked it past Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff to tie the game at 1.

“He’s been great against us,” Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowsky said. “That’s not a surprise to us — he’s been great against us all year. He’s a tough, big body to handle. He’s great on the power play but he’s also a confidence guy five-on-five, tough to handle in the defensive zone.”

Wisconsin’s first line of Kerdiles, Zengerle and Tyler Barnes also was buzzing all game, notching 11 of the Badgers’ 34 shots. The trio entered the game with 13 goals and 32 points over the last seven contests, adding a pair of assists against the Nittany Lions.

Maybe the most impressive work by Wisconsin’s top line was done in the final minute of the game, where the Badgers’ first group of forwards was able to keep the puck pinned in Penn State’s zone for almost the entirety of the game’s final 60 seconds, keeping Skoff on the ice.

Penn State wasn’t able to get an extra skater until there were about six seconds left, and Wisconsin had secured the win.

“Everybody contributed — blocking shots on the penalty kill and making passes on the power play, just chipping the pucks out,” Mersch said. “A lot of people step up in different ways, it’s not just goal scoring. But it’s nice to contribute.”

While Wisconsin’s first line kept on producing, part of the onus was on Mersch and linemates Dahl and Morgan Zulinick to carry part of the load as well. Wisconsin’s second line went a combined 4-4–8 over the Badgers’ last six games, with all four goals and three of the assists coming from Mersch.

But with a chance at the Big Ten tournament title on the line, the rest of the Badgers responded.

“The Zengerle line has been doing a lot of goal scoring the end of the regular season. We’ve been looking for contributions, secondary contributions from Dahly’s line,” Eaves said. “They got a little bit of a start at Michigan State, and tonight, they carried on and got a big first goal for us, that unit.”

And for a Badgers squad that has eyes on more than just a Big Ten trophy, this weekend looks like a great time for Mersch to heat up.

“Michael knows that one of his responsibilities on this team is to be on the score sheet,” Eaves said. “He takes great pride in that. So that’s nice for him. That gives him confidence, and he gets that confidence, maybe he can stay up there for a while.”