It was a bittersweet return to the Kohl Center for Wisconsin men’s hockey fans this weekend in Madison, as the No. 13 Badgers (0-2-0) fell in both frames of their opening series against the visiting Michigan Tech Huskies (2-0-0).
Game one started out well enough for Wisconsin, as Caden Brown scored the first goal of his Badgers career just 1:13 into the contest, assisted by veterans Ryder Donovan and Dominick Mersch. Unfortunately for UW, this would be the team’s only lead of the weekend, and it did not take long to dissipate.
At the 10:08 mark, the Huskies successfully converted a power play off of a Tyler Inamoto boarding penalty, with Brett Thorne slapping one in to tie the game 1-1. The Badgers held firm for the rest of the first period, successfully killing a Roman Ahcan boarding penalty as the game looked like it was shaping up to be a primarily defensive battle.
Michigan Tech quickly took control of the tone of the series, rattling off two unanswered goals in the first three minutes of the second period from senior Brian Halonen at 1:14 and junior Logan Pietila at 2:50.
Facing a 3-1 deficit early in the second period, Wisconsin showed some fight, playing arguably their best five-minute sequence of the series. Wisconsin bore down on defense, limiting Tech’s chances in front of the net.
The defensive focus culminated in a breakaway unassisted Mathieu De St. Phalle goal to pull the Badgers within one with 13 minutes left in the period.
The Kohl Center swelled with energy in the hope of a Badger comeback, but the Huskies promptly deflated the home crowd with yet another Logan Pietila goal two minutes later, extending the Tech lead to 4-2.
After a frustrating couple of offensive sequences for the Badgers, in which each of the forward lines struggled to put together well-developed possessions, Michigan Tech took the wind completely out of UW’s sails with an Alec Broetzman goal off a Matthew Quercia dime at the 14:55 mark.
This gave the Huskies a commanding 5-2 lead, a score that would hold for the remaining 25 minutes of the contest. Wisconsin starting goalie sophomore Cameron Rowe was pulled for junior Jared Moe after the Huskies’ fifth goal.
While it was a disappointing season debut for the sophomore (12 saves, 5 goals allowed), there shouldn’t be an excessive amount of concern about his performance at this stage. It’s just one game; the young goalie is still coming off of a very promising freshman campaign and many of the five goals allowed on his watch were truly a team failure.
A lack of passing lane disruption on defense and minimal offensive pressure on Michigan Tech ultimately led to a high number of quality chances for the Huskies, and UW paid the price.
Credit is due to Moe for his performance in the third period of this game, not allowing a single goal and recording nine saves. However, the Badgers couldn’t manage to get another one through, and MTU took the first game with a final score of 5-2.
Unfortunately for UW, Saturday night was mostly the same story for the Badgers. If anything, the issues on both sides of the ice in the first game seemed to exacerbate even further in the second.
Jared Moe got the nod over Cameron Rowe for starting goalie, likely due to his solid work during Friday’s final period. However, it became clear soon into this game that UW’s problems cannot be fixed with a simple goalie fix, as Michigan Tech scored four straight unanswered goals against Moe across the first two periods.
Broetzman, Trenton Bliss, Tyrone Bronte and Parker Saretsky all got the puck past Moe for Michigan Tech before UW head coach Tony Granato pulled the goalie at the 1:21 mark of the second period, placing Cameron Rowe back in the crease facing a daunting 4-0 deficit.
Despite giving up a quick goal at 2:50 in the second to put Michigan Tech up 5-0, Rowe stood solid for the last 34 minutes of the game, recording 11 saves and no more allowed goals.
The offense wasn’t able to do much at any point in this game, going on several five-plus minute stretches without a shot on goal. Even when the Badgers did manage to get a shot off, the placement and speed weren’t sharp enough to get any by the Tech goalie, Blake Pietila.
Wisconsin never seemed to find their rhythm, failing to establish their offensive sets and securing quality attempts. Much credit is deserved to the stout Husky defense for forcing the Badgers into awkward angles and desperate shot attempts. Still, UW certainly had several self-inflicted errors throughout the game.
Michigan Tech would ultimately win the game comfortably with a score of 5-1, with the only Wisconsin goal coming early in the third period from Mersch.
While it was a disappointing opening series overall for UW, the raw talent on this team was still evident in several sequences, and there is some room for optimism as long as the edges are smoothed out by the coaching staff over the next few weeks.
The Badgers will look to bounce back against Army West Point at the Kohl Center this Thursday and Friday.