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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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Badgers finally earn conference win, split series against Michigan

After a two week break, the Wisconsin Badgers returned to the Kohl Center to face the Big Ten rival Michigan Wolverines, ending in a split series.

With favorable matchups against struggling non-conference opponents in the rearview mirror, the Wisconsin Badgers (7-9-0, 1-7-0 Big Ten) welcomed a far more formidable challenger in the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (11-6-1, 3-5-0). UW rose to the challenge, securing a hard-fought series split at home.   

The Badgers matched their goal total from six prior losses against Big Ten opponents Friday night, defeating the Wolverines in dominant fashion, 6-3.

Michigan drew first blood in the contest at 10:58 in the opening period. Forward Gavin Brindley’s pass deflected to the edge of the crease and found the stick of teammate TJ Hughes, who connected with Rutger McGroarty. The freshman promptly snapped a one-timer from the slot to put the Wolverines up, 1-0.   

It didn’t take long for the visitors to double their lead. A quick transition down the ice left the Badgers flat-footed, allowing Michigan’s Luke Hughes to sneak his shot past the outstretched glove of UW goalie Jared Moe at 14:01 in the first.

With the contest teetering towards an early blowout, the Badgers came barreling back with two goals of their own before the closing horn of the first period sounded. 

UW forward and A-rated draft prospect Charlie Stramel showcased his blazing speed for the nearly 50 NHL scouts in attendance, skating the puck from the Badgers’ defensive zone and firing it home from the left circle. The breakaway score, which came with 4:37 left in the first, pulled Wisconsin within one, 2-1.

The Badgers were gifted another golden scoring opportunity 20 seconds later after Michigan’s Johnny Druskinis was assessed a five-minute major for head contact. UW’s Brock Caufield swiftly capitalized on the one-man advantage, corralling the rebound of Tyson Jugnauth’s shot in the slot and burying the puck through goalie Erik Portillo’s pads. 

Wisconsin skated back onto the ice locked in a 2-2 tie as the middle frame began, though wasted little time securing their first lead of the night. Less than four minutes into the second period, forward Jack Horbach dished the puck to Corson Ceulemans, whose shot from the blue line navigated through traffic en route to the back of the net.

Zach Urdahl extended Wisconsin’s unanswered scoring barrage with 5:37 left in the second. After receiving a give-and-go feed from defenseman Mike Vorlicky at the point, the sophomore uncorked a shot from the top of the zone that evaded Portillo and increased the Badgers’ lead, 4-2. 

The Wolverines wouldn’t go down without a fight, netting a goal at 5:04 in the third period to pull within one, 4-3. With both sides down a man due to penalties, Michigan’s Adam Fantilli squeaked a sharp-angle shot from the goal line into the net. 

UW’s Cruz Lucius returned the favor with 8:40 left in the frame to reclaim the Badgers’ two-goal cushion. Sophomore Daniel Laatsch’s shot from the point met the stick of Lucius midair and deflected past Portillo for Wisconsin’s fifth goal of the night.

The final blow came from Owen Lindmark, who scored an empty-net goal in the closing minute of the contest to cap off Wisconsin’s upset 6-3 victory — their first conference win of the season.

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“That's a big win,” Stramel said after the game. “We've gotten some confidence. We feel like our team's taken a big step overall these past few weeks.”

Despite claiming the lead on two separate occasions Saturday night, the Badgers were unable to come away with a win, instead settling for a series split and 4-2 loss. 

Horbach netted the first goal of the night at 5:56 in the first period, prompting the 8,619 fans in attendance to rain teddy bears onto the ice in honor of Wisconsin’s fifth annual Teddy Bear Toss. After handling a pass from Ceulemans up top, Horbach utilized a screen set by Carson Bantle and wristed the puck home.

Forty seconds was all it took for the Wolverines to get on the board and even the score at one apiece. Michigan’s Luke Hughes and McGroarty led the rush into Wisconsin’s defensive zone, with the latter finishing the scoring effort from the left side.

Bantle restored the Badgers’ lead with 11:54 left in the second period. The junior received the puck from teammate Sam Stange upon entering the offensive zone and went top shelf from the slot to put Wisconsin up, 2-1. 

The Wolverines once again had a near-immediate answer for the Badgers, tying the contest at 11:26 in the second. Moments after exiting the penalty box, Michigan’s Mark Estapa lifted a backhand shot over the shoulder of Moe and into the back of the net.  

Both sides left the period tied at two despite Michigan amassing 10 more shots over the course of the first two frames (25-15). Eventually, the Wolverines’ shot advantage translated to scores.

With seven minutes left in the contest, Michigan defenseman Ethan Edwards was sent off the ice for tripping. Instead of taking advantage of the powerplay, the Badgers committed a costly mistake in their defensive zone. Jugnauth’s lackadaisical pass from behind the Badgers’ net was intercepted by Estapa, who subsequently scored an easy short-handed goal to give Michigan their first lead of the night, 3-2.

The Badgers pulled Moe in favor of an extra attacker, though soon came to regret the decision after McGroarty buried a shot into the empty net from the benches.

“I don't think we played the way we needed to to deserve the sweep,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said after the 4-2 loss. “The game was definitely there for us.”

Wisconsin will face another tough opponent in the No. 4 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers next week, with road games slated for 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 9 and 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10.

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