The No. 3 Wisconsin men's hockey team (14-5-5 overall, 8-3-5 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) got more than it bargained for from Michigan Tech (4-12-4, 2-8-2), falling to the Huskies 3-2 Saturday night. Left wing Chris Conner led the way for Michigan Tech, tallying two goals, including the game winner, as well as an assist. The loss snaps a 13-game conference unbeaten streak for Wisconsin.
"I think that we can work at a higher level," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "I thought that at times when we worked hard we were not as smart as we needed to be and at times as a team we were dysfunctional in our systems."
The Badgers struck first as freshman defenseman Ryan Suter scored his second goal of the season eight minutes, 14 seconds into the first period. Suter's shot from behind the net caromed off Tech goaltender Bryce Lucker's right pad and into the goal, giving Wisconsin the early lead. Andrew Joudrey and Ross Carlson picked up assists on the goal.
The Huskies nearly tied the game minutes later, as Frank Werner's shot missed an open goal on a three-on-two break.
UW's Robbie Earl created a scoring opportunity of his own, but could not backhand the puck past Lucker after a sensational one-on-one move, and the period ended with Wisconsin leading 1-0.
Michigan Tech got even in more ways than one in the second period. Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler caught Brett Engelhardt in the face with a left hand 4:56 into the period, drawing a two-minute penalty for roughing. Engelhardt achieved poetic justice on Bruckler 49 seconds later, blasting a slapshot from the point past the Badger goaltender to even the score.
"I didn't see the play, I'm going to have to look at the replay of that," Eaves said of the incident. "That's unlike him. I didn't even ask him about that so I really can't comment."
Bruckler stopped Conner in the closing seconds of the period to preserve the tie and give UW some momentum heading into the locker room. The Badgers would start the third stanza with 1:04 remaining on a power play.
"We felt good about our chances, obviously starting the period on a power play is a good thing," Wisconsin defenseman Dan Boeser said. "We felt if we could get some good scoring chances and maybe bury one, we'd be able to roll through the third. Obviously that didn't happen."
A minor skirmish in front of the net 5:55 into the frame landed Wisconsin Rene Bourque and Michigan Tech's John Scott and Engelhardt in the penalty box, putting the Badgers on the power play. However, it was the Huskies who went on the offensive little over one minute later. Despite being pulled down by Suter and Joudrey, Conner scored an unassisted shorthanded goal to give last-place Michigan Tech the 2-1 advantage over the WCHA leaders.
"He's very crafty and he's good with the puck," UW's Nick Licari said of the 5-7 Conner. "He's extremely quick, and that you need to respect regardless of his size. He's very dangerous—he's got quick hands and quick feet and I think that's what makes him hard to contain. He's got a good shot and he can put the puck away when he needs to."
Once again, Conner and the Huskies had the answer. The sophomore put a rebound over a sprawling Bruckler for his 17th goal of the season, with an assist going to Werner. More importantly, the goal gave Tech a 3-2 advantage they would not relinquish.
"The difference maker tonight was Mr. Conner," Eaves said. "As much as we tried to highlight when he was out on the ice to our people, he was a difference maker and good for him."
Luker held off a last minute flurry from Wisconsin to preserve the win. UW pulled Bruckler with a little over one minute remaining, but could not find the equalizer. Tech's netminder made 33 saves in the contest, while Bruckler collected 18. The Badgers recorded 35 shots to the Huskies' 21.
"We just didn't get it done," Boeser said. "Bottom line: they just outplayed us. That's just what happened tonight."
Wisconsin remains in first place of the WCHA by virtue of a 2-2 tie between North Dakota and Alaska Anchorage.
"We've just got to get back to the basics like Coach told us after the game," Boeser said. "We've got to get back to work Monday morning in the weight room and try to start a new streak."