UW men’s hockey fades late against Notre Dame
It had been five weeks since the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team closed the first half of the season with a home sweep of Michigan State, leaving it in a tie for first place in the Big Ten Conference.
As the Badgers resumed the league schedule Friday night against No. 12 Notre Dame, the team’s aura had changed from those good days when UW had gone six games without a loss.
Two home losses to Denver and an exhibition defeat at the hands of the U.S. Under-18 Team in the past two weeks sent the Badgers into their return to Big Ten play with a heightened sense of desperation.
It showed in long stretches at the Kohl Center, but the Fighting Irish got the last strikes against the UW defense in decisive moments to send the Badgers to a painful defeat.
Mike O’Leary fired a shot past backup goalie Jack Berry with 6 minutes, 24 seconds remaining, breaking a tie in what ended up as a 6-4 Notre Dame victory.
The Badgers lost for the first time in their past seven Big Ten games and had their overall losing streak extended to three games against an Irish team that was missing its top three goal-scorers and had lost three straight.
UW had runs of near-continuous possession in the first two periods but wasn’t able to keep that up in the final 20 minutes.
“This one obviously hurts with how well we played,” Badgers captain Peter Tischke said.
Michael Graham broke a 3-3 tie in the third period with his second power-play goal of the game for Notre Dame, but Will Johnson answered on the man advantage for the Badgers.
Johnson got the third attempt on Irish goalie Cale Morris (33 saves) from close range to go, forging another tie in a game of swings.
The Badgers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the second period on Tarek Baker’s rebound goal. But the Irish outscored them 4-1 from there, including Tory Dello’s game-sealing goal into an empty net.
UW had a string of 12 straight shot attempts in the first period and 14 in a row in the second prior to the fateful finish.
“Once the game looked easy for us, we started to open it up too much and started to get away from some of the things that we had done well to take control of that game,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said.
UW (8-10-3, 4-4-3-1 Big Ten) wasn’t expecting any less of Notre Dame (13-8-1, 6-6) even though its opponent was missing dependable forwards. Cal Burke, who paces the Irish with nine goals, and Cam Morrison are out at least for this weekend, and Joe Wegwerth is done for the season.
Granato said before the series that his team needed to be stingy in front of its net because the Irish would be there working.
The Badgers didn’t live up to their end of the bargain in the first period as the Irish got scores from Graham Slaggert and Graham, each of whom entered the game with only one goal on the season.
UW’s power play struck for the sixth straight game with a K’Andre Miller goal to get the Badgers back within a goal before the end of the period.
The Badgers were back on the front foot offensively in the second period, starting with Roman Ahcan’s tying goal 1:44 into the frame.
Baker gave UW a 3-2 lead 10 minutes later after Notre Dame made a mess of clearing the rebound of a Tischke drive to the net.
At that point, the Badgers were in control but saw that get stripped away by a string of good shifts from the Irish. It culminated with defenseman Bobby Nardella scoring with a shot to the top left corner with 5:32 left in the second to even the game at 3-3.
“The key thing for me was the bounce back,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “They scored, we came back and scored the next one. To me, that’s a really important feature for us, especially right now, being able to respond.”
UW starting goalie Daniel Lebedeff left the game after allowing Graham’s go-ahead goal in the third. The Notre Dame winger tripped after scoring, and his skate clipped the side of Lebedeff’s helmet.
Lebedeff was cut on the play but Granato said the goalie “will be fine” otherwise. The coach, however, wasn’t sure of Lebedeff’s availability for Sunday night’s rematch at the United Center in Chicago.
“It was scary,” Granato said.
Notre Dame 2 1 3 — 6
Wisconsin 1 2 1 — 4
First period: N — Slaggert 2 (Cam Burke, Jenkins), 2:07; Graham 2 (Malmquist, Nardella), 9:44 (pp). W — Miller 5 (Emberson, Lebedeff), 13:37 (pp). Penalties: Theisen, N, 2:52; Johnson, W, 9:03; Novak, N, 12:36.
Second period: W — Ahcan 3 (Mersch, Ess), 1:44; Baker 5 (Tischke, Ess), 11:27. N — Nardella 6 (Theisen), 14:28. Penalties: Inamoto, W, 11:08; O’Leary, N, 11:08.
Third period: N — Graham 3 (Peeke, Nardella), 4:22 (pp). W — Johnson 7 (Emberson, Malone), 8:23. N — O’Leary 3 (Malmquist, Graham), 13:36; Dello 1, 18:43 (en). Penalties: Baker, W, 3:09; Hellickson, N, 6:47; Tischke, W (double minor), 19:48; M. Steeves, N, 19:48.
Saves: N (Morris 12-10-11) 33; W (Lebedeff 6-6-0, Berry x-x-6) 18. Power plays: N 2-for-3; W 2-for-3. Att. — 10,976.