Ashwaubenon — There’s a price to pay for being one of the top men’s college hockey teams in the nation.
That’s the lesson No.5/6 Wisconsin took from its 5-4 overtime loss to Northern Michigan in a non-conference game at the Resch Center Friday night.
“We have to start playing like we’re the No.5-ranked team,” sophomore center Trent Frederic said. “Every team is going to start playing hard against us every night, so we have to bring it back too.”
Put another way, Wisconsin needs to regularly string together 60 minutes of quality hockey. UW certainly didn’t do that in Friday’s series opener.
It took host NMU a few shifts to settle in with the Badgers but, once they did, the Wildcats reaped the benefits of becoming the aggressors.
Action flowed freely in the opening half of the first period. UW held a firm grip on the neutral zone early. It took NMU nearly nine minutes to record its first shot on goal.
“The best four minutes of the game were probably the best four minutes for us,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato said. “We came out and did a good job of getting skating.”
However, it was the Wildcats who struck first. Robbie Payne found the back of the net from close range to open the scoring with 8:44 to go in the opening stanza. It was the sixth tally of the year for the senior winger.
“I think we started getting on our heels,” Granato said. “We weren’t as much on our toes or on the attack as we were earlier in the game. We started backing up and retreating and they started coming.”
The Badgers pulled even in short order. Peter Tischke set up Frederic, who beat NMU netminder Atte Tolvanen glove side, to knot the score at one apiece.
After successfully thwarting the Wildcats’ first power play, Wisconsin took its second holding penalty of the period with 1:06 remaining. This time, NMU capitalized on the man advantage. Darien Craighead tipped a puck past UW’s Kyle Hayton, making the score 2-1 in favor of the home team at the first intermission.
It seemed the tide was turning in the Badgers’ favor early in the middle stanza. Thanks to a pair of quick NMU penalties, Wisconsin had a lengthy 5-on-3 opportunity roughly four minutes into the period.
But the Wildcats flipped the script, somehow managing an odd-man rush despite being down two players. Denver Pierce capitalized with a goal and NMU was up 3-1.
“They jumped on the opportunity. We were flat-footed in the offensive zone,” Granato said. “I think we were frustrated that we couldn’t generate more opportunities on the offensive side of things and we got a little bit lazy and they took advantage of it. It was a big goal. That was a killer.”
Moments later the Badgers, still on the power play, responded. Seamus Malone let one rip from the top of the far circle and scorched the twine, pulling Wisconsin back within one.
Halfway through the frame, UW once again found itself with a two-man advantage but was unable to cash-in.
Shortly after, the Wildcats had a 5-on-3 of their own and they refused to squander the opportunity. After an extended stay in the Wisconsin zone, Philip Beaulieu punched a puck past Hayton and pushed NMU’s edge back to two goals.
The Badgers killed another penalty in the waning minutes to keep the score at 4-2 heading to the locker room.
Jason Ford jump-started Wisconsin’s comeback attempt with a goal midway through the third period, cutting the Badgers’ deficit to one.
With 2:15 remaining in regulation, Frederic netted his second goal of the game and brought the score back to even for the first time since opening period.
“We probably didn’t deserve to get even,” Granato said. “But we found a way — two big goals relatively late in the game.”
Frederic believes his team needs to build upon the effort they put forth in the final 20 minutes.
“I think how we played in the third is kind of how we need to play every period. We kind of stepped it up a notch. We kind of knew what we were coming to do.”
Less than 90 seconds into overtime, a scrum broke out in front of the Wisconsin net. With the puck out of sight, the whistle blew and the officials emphatically signaled “no goal.” After a brief review, that call was confirmed.
Moments later, Peter Tischke got called for hooking and the Badgers were once again on the short end of a power play. Wisconsin successfully killed the penalty and went back to work with a few ticks under a minute left.
With the Badgers struggling to get the push they needed to carry the puck into the offensive zone, the opportunistic Wildcats dealt the decisive blow. Pierce tallied his second goal of the night with only 17.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
Hayton made 21 saves and took his second loss of the young season.
“A screen and three one-timers. It wasn’t the greatest performance by us [defensively],” Granato said. “They were all pretty good goals. You can’t fault him on any of those.”
Northern Michigan (4-1) never trailed in the contest, recording its fourth consecutive win and, in-turn, snapped Wisconsin’s three-game winning streak.
“We lost special teams tonight, that was a big part of it,” Granato said. “They played a better game than we did, all over the ice. They were the better team tonight.”
With the loss, the Badgers fall to 4-2 on the campaign.
Granato wants his team to dictate the flow of the proceedings when the two squads meet in the series finale.
“Tonight there was a lot of standing around, waiting to see what was going to happen,” Granato said. “We have to determine the pace of the game.”
The series concludes Saturday evening. Faceoff is slated for 5 p.m.