Michigan rolls, faces MSU in Big Ten semis
Detroit — Challenged all season with a young roster and injuries, Wisconsin could nonetheless have provided a big surprise in the first round of the Big Ten hockey tournament.
But while the 5-1 score was deceptive, Michigan prevailed Thursday. And it will play Michigan State at 8 p.m. Friday, for a chance to continue to the championship game for a shot at making the NCAA Tournament after missing it the last two seasons.
Zach Hyman scored twice for Michigan and added an assist.
Dylan Larkin, a top Red Wings prospect, had a gorgeous goal and three assists for the Wolverines.
Troubled defensively for long stretches of the season, Michigan performed well, including on the power play. Goalie Steve Racine, who got the nod only the day of the game, stopped 28 of 29 shots.
Coach Red Berenson said that while it will be discussed, further, Racine is likely to start against Michigan State.
It was good hockey, as was the earlier game between Ohio State and Penn State. But it was viewed by far, far too few in the stands.
There were, at most, several hundred people and some 19,000 empty seats in Joe Louis Arena for the second championship tournament since the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference.
And the Michigan-Wisconsin game was far more closely contested than the score indicated.
"It was 3-1 with five minutes to go, and we had a 5 on 3," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, whose son, Patrick, played for the Red Wings. "Realistically, we were hoping that we'd get a second goal.
"We had a few bad breaks early. But this group showed its resilience and hung around. And with five minutes to go, we were knocking on the door with the power play.
"As disappointing as it is, at the end of the season, these men earned the right to walk out of the rink with their heads held up high. They could have folded, but they didn't. And they kept battling."
Red Berenson, in his 30th year at Michigan, sense that the Badgers might be tough, despite having an off year.
"I didn't think it was a 5-1 game," he said. "And the first half of the third period, after they got the goal, I thought Wisconsin really turned it up and had some good scoring chances.
"They outchanced us there for a stretch, 6-2, in the third. And Racine held up and our team held up, and then we got the opportunities with the goal later on. But we were fortunate.
"I thought we were opportunistic. Our goalie played well. Our penalty killers played well. And you could say it was a good team effort.
"It was kind of a trap game. Wisconsin's had a tough season and you knew they were capable, if they got it going, to surprise or upset anybody. And so I'm glad we got away with the win."
To avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive year, Michigan must win the Big Ten championship.
That means beating Michigan State and the winner of the 4:30 p.m. Friday game between Ohio State and Minnesota.
Michigan outshot Wisconsin 9-5 in the first period and got a goal from Hyman at 14:45.
Michigan seemed to score a moment earlier, when Hyman, playing in front of the Wisconsin net in the style of the former Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom, appeared to tip Larkin's shot from the point past Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel. But a referee waved it off.
With that, and the puck bouncing directly out of the net, Hyman turned and swept the "rebound" back in.
Larkin, of Waterford, and Zach Werenski, of Grosse Pointe, got the assists.
Hyman, a senior and draft pick of the Florida Panthers, became the first Michigan player to score 20 goals in a season since Louie Caporusso in 2009-10.
He also became the first Michigan player with 50 points, since Carl Hagelin in the same season. Hagelin now plays for the New York Rangers.
Early in the second, the Wolverines benefited from a fluky goal.
Andrew Sinelli, the senior defenseman from Dexter, took a pass from Cristoval "Boo" Nieves and shot the puck. It hit the shaft of the stick of a Wisconsin defensemen, elevated nearly like an infield pop-up, and came down in the net behind Rumpel.
It was an impossible moment for any goaltender, short of one the height of an NBA forward.
Dexter Dancs also assisted on the play.
Then, at 4:48, it was Hyman, again.
The author of two children's books knocked one in during a wild scramble in the crease. The referees called it a goal and reviewed the play to confirm the call.
"I didn't know it went in until somebody pointed to it," Hyman said.
It was his 21st of the season, and Cutler Martin and Larkin assisted.
It was Larkin's 31st assist of the season.
In the third, Jedd Soelway, a sophomore right wing and draft choice of the Phoenix Coyotes, scored during a traffic jam in the Michigan crease.
The referees originally ruled it no goal, but the replays were clear.
Cameron Hughes, a freshman, assisted.
Generous to a fault, Michigan tried to let Wisconsin back into the game with two penalties around the 13-minute mark of the third period.
It allowed the Badgers 1:03 of 5-on-3 play. But they could not score, and Michigan was stingy with any chances.
Then, just a couple of minutes after the kills, Larkin took the puck at the Michigan blue line and brilliantly rushed the ice, weaving through the Wisconsin defenders, and beating Rumpel for the fourth goal.
At 17:49 Justin Selman scored the fifth, from Larkin and Hyman.
After the game, the Michigan players, who contributed mightily to the best team performance on offense in the nation this season, seemed particularly pleased with the defensive efforts, and Racine's play.
"I think it was a team effort defensively," Larkin said. "I think Steve played well in the net and I think it would be huge if he could play in the net for the rest of the tournament. But it was a team effort on defense."
Of the penalty kill, he said, ""I think we were aggressive. We didn't take much time to set up."