Tony Granato celebrated his first win as head coach over the weekend as the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team split a two-game series against Northern Michigan in Green Bay.
The Badgers (1-1, 0-0 Big Ten) opened their season Friday night with a close 3-2 loss to the Wildcats (1-1, 0-0) before rebounding Saturday night with a win in an 11 goal thriller, 6-5.
Granato’s first game behind the bench for Wisconsin did not immediately go as planned as the Badgers fell behind just 19 seconds into the game and went on to lose 3-2. Wisconsin continued on their slow start and allowed all three goals in the first 26 minutes of the game before settling in and eventually falling short.
Badger forward Will Johnson was able to equalize the game at 1-1, not long after the Wildcats notched their first. UW defenseman Corbin McGuire did all he could to help, scoring late in the third period and posting the final score of the game. Northern Michigan was able to clamp down on the backend and secure their first win on the year.
But the Badgers bounced back Saturday night with a come-from-behind 6-5 win, their first of the season. Penalties heavily influenced the outcome of the game as seven of the 11 goals came on a power-play in an aggressive back-and-forth battle. Granato noted the momentum shift that a penalty can provide in college hockey, which he said he hadn’t dealt with as a coach in the NHL.
“The penalties and momentum in games in college hockey shift a lot more than in the NHL,” Granato said. “Two, three, four penalties in a row, a five-on-three … a lot of things happen.”
This momentum proved to swing in the direction of the Badgers, as four of their six goals were scored on power-plays, including the game-winner. Sophomore goalie Matt Jurusik ignited Wisconsin with three clutch saves during a 5-on-3 penalty kill and inspired the eventual exciting finish for the Badgers.
“That was the biggest part of the game, that kill on the 5-on-3,” Granato said. “Matty Jurusik made three big saves in that 5-on-3, and I thought our guys did a really good job.”
After the crucial penalty kill, Wisconsin converted on their fourth power-play of the game as freshman Trent Frederic slotted home the winning goal, his first ever as a Badger. The Badgers held on to secure their first win of the season and their first under Granato.
“It’s the second game of the year, so we’re not in midseason form,” Granato said.
The win is the Badger’s first over Northern Michigan since 2011 and is a good sign for a program trying to rebound after a few disappointing seasons.
The Badgers hope to continuing improving under Granato as they take on Boston College at the Kohl Center for the home-opener Friday at 7 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday.