Teams don’t necessarily have to know each other to hate one another. Wisconsin and Michigan showed why Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
Although the teams haven’t met since 2010 and haven’t played a two-game series since 1981 before this weekend, the 8th-ranked Wolverines and 14th-ranked Badgers looked like bitter rivals.
Following a frantic finish that included a goal that was waved off and seven penalties for a fight with 33 seconds left, Wisconsin managed to hold on for a 3-1 win and a series sweep.
As Mike Eaves discussed in the post-game press conference after the game, multiple factors came into play that made the match-up feel as if the teams hadn’t missed a beat since Wisconsin (13-6-1 overall, 4-2-0-0 Big Ten) last swept Michigan (10-6-2, 2-2-0-0) 33 years ago.
“We walk out tonight into the Kohl Center and there’s almost 14,000 people and why does that happen? People want to see Big Ten hockey again? I don’t know but that was a great product out there tonight. I think that the rivalry is back,” Eaves said.
The first period was evenly played, with Eaves noting his squad could have had a 3-goal lead with all the quality scoring chances, but nonetheless, the two teams headed to the first intermission deadlocked at one.
Defenseman Frankie Simonelli had tallied the first goal of the game 14:06 into the opening stanza off a blast from the right point. But a little more than three and a half minutes later Michigan came roaring back to tie the game on a power play goal from Andrew Copp.
Without any scoring for the better portion of the second period, Wisconsin’s Chase Drake walked into the slot and a terrific scoring opportunity after an odd-man rush and several missed rebound shots.
“I was kind of surprised it didn’t go in right away. But coach Walsh has been talking with us to pick our spots at the right moment and I picked it,” Drake said. “It just kind of squirted out and was on edge and I just got a lucky chip really,”
With the puck on his stick and Michigan goaltender Zach Nagelvoort out of position, Drake rifled the puck into a nearly wide-open net for what proved to be the game winning goal.
Throughout the rest of the game Badgers’ goaltender Joel Rumpel was just what the doctor ordered, coming up with several huge saves to hold the score steady at 2-1.
As Joseph LaBate noted, it wasn’t the goaltending of Rumpel that the Badgers rode to victory but the surging emotions in the crowd.
“I think we were just riding the energy of the arena. It was a packed house and you can feel that when you’re on the ice. You can feel the excitement that the crowd is giving you. I think the whole team just built off that,” said LaBate, who had a goal and an assist on the night.
After LaBate scored on a breakaway with 1:59 left in the game, those surging emotions overflowed when Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle was shoved down late after a whistle that led to a skirmish with 11 players, of the 12 on the ice, involved.
That late scrap put the signature stamp on the sweep, and gave those involved a reason to believe that the series will only continue to develop into a more intense rivalry over the coming months and years.
“I think it’s was a hard-nosed game. I think we’re starting to create a little rivalry there between us and Michigan and we’re excited about it,” Simonelli said. “We’re excited to go back up to Michigan in a few weeks and play at their barn and have some more high energy games like that.”
Rumpel finished with 28 saves, picking up his 10th win of the season to improve to 10-1-0 overall. Nagelvoort, meanwhile, recorded 34 saves and picked up his second straight loss to drop his record to 6-5-1.
With the win Wisconsin took over sole possession of first place and now has 12 points in Big Ten play.