The Badgers played a conference game for the first time in over a month on Friday night, renewing a very old rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines. A crowd of 9,499 witnessed history as the Badgers' Michael Mersch recorded the school's first ever hat trick in Big Ten play, leading Wisconsin to an entertaining 5-2 victory over No. 8 Michigan.
One has to wonder where Wisconsin hockey would be without the goal poaching of Michael Mersch, and on Friday his importance was on full display. He bookend the game and the middle goal proved vitally important to Wisconsin.
"The last goal was a goal-scorers goal," head coach Mike Eaves said following the game. "Being on the off wing and finding that far side. You know what, goal scorers love to score goals, and when they get on a roll, that's a good thing. Ride that wave as long as you can. I think he hadn't scored in three games, so maybe he's back on that roll again."
Michigan's freshman netminder Zach Nagelvoort got off to a rough start on the night, letting a pair of very soft goals behind him in the opening period.
The first of Mersch's hat trick goals opened up the Badgers account on the night, as he shot one left side of the goal and this ensued:
Mersch's goal came at 4:16 of the 1st period, with assists from Kevin Schulze and Jefferson Dahl.
Up 1-0, Nagelvoort was a victim of his own bad positioning and great play by Wisconsin freshman Grant Besse. He would make it 2-0 on this great wrap-around goal:
Michigan would have the better of the play for the majority of the 1st period though, and as the final horn sounded to end the period the 2-0 UW lead didn't reflect how the period should've really gone.
Credit Badgers netminder Joel Rumple for part of that, as he stopped an early onslaught by the Wolverines and continued to show why Eaves is choosing to stick with him in net more often than not as the season has gone on.
It wasn't just Rumple that stood out, but the entire team's defensive effort was solid. No more so than on the Wolverine's power play. Michigan came in hoping to force penalties against the Badgers and they did just that, going on the power play six times on the night, but for the most part Wisconsin was equal to the task.
“I don’t recall having to make any outstanding or big saves," said Rumple after the game. "Our team blocking shots and keeping pucks outside makes my job pretty easy. But definitely killing those off early in the game is a huge boost for our team to get us rolling and get the energy going on the bench. It helps.”
After a scoreless 2nd period, it appeared as if it would be more of the same in the final period, with the Badgers hanging on to it's 2-0 lead.
However, the game was far from over and the 3rd period provided some very entertaining hockey down the stretch.
The game had gone over 40 minutes without a goal, but the Badgers appeared to put this game away with a Jefferson Dahl goal, off his skate, at the 11:47 mark of the 3rd period.
However, that was just a sign of things to come. Less than three minutes later Michigan's Andrew Copp put home his 10th goal of the season on a sneaky goal to make it 3-1 Badgers. He took a pass off a re-directed shot from the left side and caught Rumple down and unable to adjust to the shot.
Michigan wasn't done battling back either and after starting the game 0-of-4 on the power play, the Badgers gave up a dumb high sticking penalty at the 16:27 mark of the period.
Finally, the Wolverines made their power play work and Luke Moffatt riffled a one-timer home to make it 3-2 at the 17:58 mark of the final period.
It would just serve to wake the Badgers up though, and the final two minutes were all Badgers. More specifically, it was all Michael Mersch.
He would take advantage of Michigan going empty net, slotting home an easy goal on a 2-on-1 breakaway at the 18:42 mark to make it a two-goal advantage at 4-2.
It was goal No. 13 on the season for the Badgers leading goal scorer, but he wasn't done.
After bringing Nagelvoort back on Mersch scored perhaps the best of his hat trick and sent the fans home with free Culver's Frozen Custard.
With the win the Badgers now are in sole possession of 2nd place in the Big Ten standings with nine points. The Badgers sit just one point off the lead of Minnesota, who have 10 points on 4 conference games played.
These two teams will finish up their first series against each other as members of the same conference since 1981 on Saturday, with puck drop scheduled for 7pm Central. Fox Sports Wisconsin alternate will have live coverage of the game.