The No. 1 Wisconsin men's hockey team had talked all week about how they would avoid any potential letdown against last-place Michigan Tech, but they were out-hustled, out-worked and out-played in a 4-2 loss to the Huskies Friday night at the Kohl Center.
"Our effort was terrible tonight. I'm embarrassed [and] disappointed," senior captain Adam Burish said. "You don't have to look any further than [assistant captain Tom Gilbert] and I here. We didn't have that group ready to play tonight. We weren't ready to play either."
The players were outspoken all week about how they knew people would see this weekend as a possible setback, but quelled any notion of such a thing. Yet that's exactly what happened.
"We lost the battle of human nature," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "It's tough when people are patting you on the back. It happens at every level—it's tough to battle human nature."
The loss snapped the Badgers' 14-game unbeaten streak (12-0-2) and was their first defeat in WCHA play.
Wisconsin (13-2-2 overall, 10-1-2 WCHA) got off on the wrong foot—surrendering the first of two Michigan Tech (3-13-1, 2-8-1 WCHA) shorthanded goals just two minutes into the game—and never recovered.
Chris Conner, Michigan Tech's offensive sparkplug, worked his magic and jump-started the Husky team just minutes into the game.
Jake Wilkens found Conner—who had snuck behind the Badgers—for a breakaway and the Huskies' offensive leader made them pay.
"If you relax for a second on [Conner], he's going to bust one loose and he's going to bury it," Burish said. "5-on-4, 4-on-5, 5-on-5, it was just the effort. The guys are embarrassed right now."
The senior assistant captain drove in, pulled the puck right to left and then poked a back-hander through UW goalie Brian Elliott's legs to knock the wind out of the lungs of 12,718 fans at the Kohl Center.
"It was huge to get that first goal," Conner said. "From there we had to keep working and [not] sit back."
"It was nice for us to play with a lead," Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell said. "You look at our scores we haven't done that much at all. To get the lead and then keep that in a tough place to play…I thought we looked pretty solid out there."
Gilbert tied the game up with a 4-on-4 goal minutes into the second period which brought the crowd back into the game for a while, but another Tech shorthanded goal would take them right back out with less than five minutes to go in the second.
This time it was Conner finding fellow-senior Brandon Schwartz streaking towards the slot. Elliott didn't see Schwartz until it was too late and Schwartz beat him far-side to regain the Husky lead.
"It's an issue of how hard you want to work," Burish said. "If you get scored on shorthanded it's because you're not working hard enough, you're relaxing. Both those goals were exactly that."
"Every team we play we have to match their work ethic and try and out-work teams," Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell said. "We can't have anyone having an off-night."
The entire Badger team seemed to have an off-night Friday.
"When you see—and I'm just going to point one guy out—when you see Nick Licari go by a guy in the first period and not run him over you think ‘Oh boy, we're in trouble,'" Eaves said. "Nick was not the only guy … but that was not a very good sign."
The Huskies made it 3-1 less than four minutes into the third period thanks to a rebound, power-play goal from Ross Carlson. It was his third tally in as many games and the crowd came roaring back looking for a tie.
For a few minutes, Michigan Tech played on its heels in the third period and the Badgers took the momentum. But it didn't matter, as the Huskies kept the door shut and Schwartz added an empty netter with less than 30 seconds left to skate away with the win.
"They worked hard, give them credit," Eaves said. "If you work hard you give yourself a chance to win—they outworked us tonight."
Wisconsin will get its chance to respond when the two teams face off again Saturday night at 8:07.
"That's a proud group of guys in there," Burish said. "That's a group of guys that believes that every time we step on the ice we will win. We're embarrassed with the way we played … and that will change tomorrow night."
Hopefully for the Badgers, their actions will speak louder than words in Saturday's rematch.