ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team overcame No. 14 Michigan Wolverines 6-5 Saturday in one of their most challenging games this season.
With Saturday’s result, Wisconsin moves to 3-1 against the Wolverines this season, having swept Michigan in November and then losing Friday’s game.
Period one delved into defensive pandemonium for both teams. Michigan scored four goals on 15 shots, and Wisconsin scored three on 13 shots. That’s a 0.267 save percentage for McClellan and a 0.214 save percentage for Wolverine’s Jake Barczewski. Not to pin the blame on the goaltenders — their defenses left them on an island for most of the period.
To make matters worse, the officiating was less than stellar. Referees called arguable icing wave-offs, with two penalties against the Badgers in the first period and one against Michigan in the second.
Those officiating decisions impacted the game. Michigan capitalized on three of their four power plays in the first period, and Wisconsin did the same on their power play in the second.
Period two saw defenses take back some control of the game. The Badgers allowed just eight shots, and Wisconsin’s David Silye ended the Badgers' power-play drought with a deflection goal.
“We played a lot more connected [on the power play], our entries were a little bit better,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Hastings told The Daily Cardinal after the game. “I thought the guys made really good decisions, just sticking with it. I thought Quinn Finley was exceptional tonight… that line with him, Fitzgerald and Tassy were difference makers all night long.”
Early in the third period, McClellan allowed a rare five-hole goal to Frank Nazar III, who smoked the Badgers with two goals on Friday. Owen Mehlenbacker, in his first game in the series, equalized the game again with his first NCAA goal. Mehlenbacker came into Saturday after sitting out game one which Tyson Dyck started instead.
There would be opportunities for both teams to score in the third but not enough to find the back of the net. The game went into overtime tied 5-5.
“It was pretty cool to get my first one here, it’s a great atmosphere,” Mehlenbacker told The Daily Cardinal after the game. “I knew [my first] would come at the right time, so it was awesome bringing the guys into overtime and then Fitzgerald took care of the rest.”
Less than a minute into overtime, the Badgers sealed the game. Quinn Finley sent a great pass across the slot to Christian Fitzgerald who nailed the top corner to send the Badgers home with a series split.
It’s the third game this season where Wisconsin beat Michigan by one goal.
“I’m happy for Fitzgerald,” Hastings said. “He’s been a little snake-bitten as far as goal scoring, so hopefully he’s feeling good about how he was playing today.”
Badgers buckle but don’t back down
The Badgers allowed the same number of goals as they did in Friday’s game, but the difference maker was that they found an offensive answer every time. Apart from a short lead in the first period, the Badgers found four equalizers and the game-winner.
“We had to compete against a lot of people tonight, the home-field advantage,” Hastings said. “I liked the ways our guys stuck with it.”
With the victory, the Badgers claimed the regular season series 3-1 over the Wolverines, an inverse of last season where they lost three and won one game in the regular season. Saturday marked the Badgers' first win at the Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor since Oct. 29, 2021.
“You want to win the [season] series,” Hastings said. “Our league, you don’t want to go through a weekend and not get points. So to go on the road and find a way to fight through some adversity tonight and get the points is great”.
The Michigan State Spartans split their weekend series against Minnesota, meaning the Spartans’ lead in Big Ten standings remains unchanged from last week.
Michigan controlled Friday’s game from puck drop Friday as the Wolverines crushed the Badgers' power play and offensive opportunities, holding them to one goal on 43 shots. Meanwhile, Michigan scored four on Badgers’ goaltender Kyle McClellan and one on the empty net with just 31 shots. Saturday saw the Badgers find more goals on a similar number of shots.
The Badgers return to Madison this coming Friday to face the No. 9 Minnesota Golden Gophers in a two-game series. Puck drop on both nights is at 7 p.m.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.