After spending the majority of his first three seasons at Wisconsin on the bench, senior Tom Gorowsky is finally getting his chance to skate on the Badgers' top line. Juxtapose to junior Michael Davies, who has seen his career gone from the first line to the bench in what has unquestionably been his most challenging season as a college hockey player.
Recent struggles aside, both made their presence known on Saturday night, which in turn gave UW its biggest non-conference win of the season.
Both Davies and Gorowsky scored a third-period, power-play goal to give Wisconsin all the offense it would need, as senior goalie Shane Connelly made 19 stops to help UW earn a 3-0 shutout over the Wolverines.
With the win, Wisconsin, who started the season 0-6-1 and had no wins a month ago at this time, is back to .500 for the first time this season and capped the month of November going 7-1-1.
"We were thrilled with our maturity to allow us to stay on course," UW head coach Mike Eaves. "We built on good things and we got the job done. This was probably the biggest game in terms of impact, getting back to .500 and beating a nationally-ranked team. Those are all great things and this game will serve us well down the line."
After registering just one goal and four assists in his first eight games, Eaves made the decision to bench Davies in hopes of boosting his play and making him more than a power-play threat. As a result, Davies was sitting in as many games (six) as he played (eight) to start the year.
"This whole process with Michael, we want him to play at a higher level," Eaves said. "That was our goal in having him sit out and watch and do some things. We want him to more than a power-play guy. We know that's his strength. We need him to be more for this team than just that."
After getting the nod last night and responding by playing a solid game, Davies one-upped himself to break a 44-plus minute scoreless tie.
With goalie Billy Sauer (27 saves) being solid all night in net for the Wolverines, Wisconsin (7-7-2) finally found an opening on the senior. Forced to come far out on the crease to stop Brendan Smith's shot, Sauer gave up a long rebound that went right to Davies. With Sauer out of position, Davies cleaned up the rebound and snuck it past a backhanded attempt from Sauer for the game's opening goal 2:55 into the third.
"I kept working hard in practice and that's really all I could do," said Davies about being benched. "I thought I did a lot better this weekend and we were generating a lot of chances."
In retrospect, the bigger momentum shift in the game came three minutes earlier. With freshman defenseman Jake Gardiner being whistled for interference (one of only four UW penalties all evening) with 10 seconds left in the second period, the Badgers would have to begin the first one minute, 50 seconds of the third a man down.
It was no sweat for Wisconsin, as the Badgers limited the Wolverines (9-7-0) to only two power-play shots.
"We had to generate something at that point," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "It's a 0-0 game after two periods. We better generate something on that power play and it didn't happen. They were a better team on the night."
After Davies registered the game's first goal on the power play, Wisconsin's special teams were back at it roughly 10 minutes later. After Michigan forward Carl Hagelin was whistled for his third penalty (this one a five-minute clipping major), Gorowsky buried a loose puck that was just out of Sauer's reach outside the crease, doubling the Badger lead at 12:38.
Entering his fourth year, Gorowsky, a former Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota, had played in 68 games, sat out 56 and played in just 17 of 40 games last season, registering only seven career goals. In his last nine games, Gorowsky has five goals and three assists, proving that he still has some skills left in his skates.
"It's almost been two different seasons so far," said Gorowsky about UW's season, which also mirrors his career. "We were working hard the whole time and since we've got one, we've been a pretty darn good team. It's been ups and downs, but we kept getting better. We just had a huge weekend for us and it would be great to continue that."
After Jordy Murray scored his third goal on an empty netter in the game's final minute, Wisconsin had its third shutout of the season and second in the last three games.
While UW was only on the penalty kill three times, Michigan, who had given up just one power play goal in the last five games, had to kill off nine penalties, seven of which they did successfully. It was the two the Wolverines faltered on, however, that made the difference against the Badgers.
"They got two power-play goals and the difference in the game was there power play," said Berenson, as Michigan was whistled for 10 penalties for 31 minutes compared to UW's four penalties for eight. "We can kill a few penalties, but we can't kill nine. That's too much. We came on this trip to be a discipline team and we wanted to stay out of the box. We did that last night, but not tonight."