Wisconsin and Michigan State both entered Saturday looking for a win in the College Hockey Showcase. For 60-plus minutes, neither got it.
In overtime, though, Spartan defenseman John-Michael Liles finally scored the game winner, firing from the high slot past Wisconsin goaltender Scott Kabotoff for the victory. The goal, unassisted, came at 3:50 of the extra session.
Michigan State (6-6-1, 3-4-0 CCHA) head coach Rick Comley was pleased with the win, despite offensive struggles and the pressure overtime placed on his team.
“We were scrambling and the guy that we would want to have it had it for sure, and I think he saw net. It looked like it went in under the crossbar,” Comley said. “It’s a very good win for us, for sure.”
Kabotoff, who has been alternating with sophomore Bernd Bruckler in net for the Badgers, described the shot he let by his shoulder.
“I saw [the puck] hit about four bodies and then get over the top of me,” Kabotoff said.
The first period saw little offensive action from either team
“We traveled late last night, so we were definitely more tired today,” Comley said. “I thought we were controlled.”
Michigan State broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period, as freshman left wing David Booth shot the puck from the low slot on assists from senior defender Brad Fast and freshman right wing Nenad Gajic. The goal, earned on a Michigan State power play, was Booth’s third of the year.
Wisconsin (5-9-0, 1-5-0 WCHA) responded at 4:40 in the third period with a goal of its own, ending a month-long drought in which the Badgers failed to capitalize on the power play.
Wisconsin, which went 0-for-9 on the power play against Michigan Friday night and had only eight shots on goal while having the man advantage, came out strong in the third period and scored the equalizer. Junior left wing Rene Bourque shot the puck from the crease after an assist from sophomore center Alex Leavitt and freshman defender Tom Gilbert.
Prior to that goal, Wisconsin had not scored with the man advantage since its 5-3 loss to Denver Nov. 2. The Badgers had gone 33 straight power plays without a goal.
“We just fired pucks on the net and we got one tonight. It’s a good stepping point for the power play,” junior defender Dan Boeser said.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said that the Badgers’ intensity and momentum in the third period was a good sign for a young team which has already experienced a tumultuous season.
Eaves made line changes after the Michigan game Friday, replacing freshman center Adam Burish, who had three penalties Friday, with sophomore Alex Leavitt in the starting offensive unit. Eaves also replaced senior defender Mark Jackson, UW’s lone goal-scorer in Friday’s loss, with Boeser in the starting defensive line.
“We changed some things around with our units and found some chemistry,” Eaves said. “As well as we played, we didn’t get it done but we can take it in the right direction.”
Michigan State and Wisconsin have both struggled offensively, as the Spartans ranked eighth in the CCHA in goals per game with 2.92, as of Saturday afternoon. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has scored only seven goals in its past six games.
“Both teams worked hard, their puck was around the net a lot and it was hard to get clean shots, real, quality clean shots and I thought (Migliaccio) maybe had a few more difficult saves than the Wisconsin kid. But I thought the Wisconsin kid played well too,” Comley said. “We struggle to score, and obviously [Wisconsin] does too. Unfortunately, you can’t just flip a switch and make that happen.”
While Wisconsin did not flip a switch to score in the third period, the Badgers came out more aggressive and offensively potent, taking 16 shots on the goal, compared with eight in the first period and 11 in the second. Wisconsin players said that the frustration from the loss to Michigan on home territory motivated the team in the third period.
“It just gets to a point where you’re so frustrated, you just don’t want to lose and you want to do whatever it takes to win; and that’s kind of how we played in the third period,” Boeser said. “We had the killer instinct to do whatever it takes to win and we came back from being down. We had a couple of great chances to win that game in the third period — and unfortunately in overtime, they got a lucky goal.”
Michigan State ended the Showcase with three points after a 5-5 tie with Minnesota. Wisconsin dropped both games, including the 4-1 loss to Michigan.