Can you pick up right where you left off and reboot a relationship after 33 years?
If you watched what happened to the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team Saturday night at the Kohl Center, you know the answer to that.
The once-dormant rivalry between the 14th-ranked Badgers and eighth-ranked Michigan, largely undisturbed since 1981, got a big-time spark and it’s reasonable to assume it will flare up again sooner rather than later.
UW claimed a 3-1 victory to sweep the Big Ten Conference series, a performance that will be remembered for a lot of things, but especially the emotional finish.
Michigan center Andrew Copp triggered a dust-up by thumping senior center Mark Zengerle well after the whistle with 33 seconds remaining. That gave way to a mid-level skirmish that jammed both penalty boxes and produced some interesting exchanges for lip-readers.
“We were just sticking up for our teammates there,” UW senior defenseman and captain Frankie Simonelli said.
The schools were strong rivals when they played in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association from 1969 to ’81. More than three decades later, they’re reunited in the Big Ten and not much appears to have changed. So it should be fun when the clubs meet Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“A rivalry is usually because you’re playing a team a lot and you get to not like them,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We’ve only played them two games.”
And already you don’t like the Badgers?
“Well, it looks like we don’t,” Berenson said. “It looks like somebody doesn’t like somebody.”
One night after registering a 5-2 win, the Badgers (13-6-1 overall, 4-2 with 12 points in the Big Ten) prevailed before an announced crowd of 14,273 — by far the largest and most boisterous of the season — to move into sole possession of first place heading into a bye week.
“That was a great product out there tonight,” UW coach Mike Eaves said after his club swept a top-10 opponent for the first time since 2011. “I think the rivalry is back.”
Simonelli, junior defenseman Chase Drake and junior left winger Joseph LaBate came through with goals for UW, while junior goaltender Joel Rumpel was credited 28 saves en route to his ninth straight win at home this season.
Coincidentally, the last WCHA regular-season series between the schools ended with a UW sweep.
Eaves said the weekend is what decision-makers probably had in mind in 2011 when they announced plans to put six schools — UW, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State — under the Big Ten umbrella starting this season.
“That’s kind of what the hope was, that the rivals would strike up again and that brings back a lot of tradition,” he said.
Simonelli gave the Badgers the initial lead in the first period, whistling a drive from the right point that changed direction when it hit Michigan defenseman Nolan De Jong in mid-journey and angled and past goaltender Zach Nagelvoort (34 saves).
The Wolverines (10-6-2, 2-2 with six points) got it back on the power play moments later when Copp zinged a wrist shot from the right circle off the near post and past Rumpel.
UW went ahead for good midway through the second on a fruitful sequence initiated by senior right winger Michael Mersch. He pirouetted around De Jong at the offensive blue line and drove to the net to set up an odd-man attack. Redshirt freshman left winger Morgan Zulinick and Mersch followed with shots before Drake located a rebound and lofted a shot over a down-and-out Nagelvoort.
“A lucky chip,” Drake said of his first career game-winner.
“That settled us down a little bit,” Eaves said.
LaBate offered some breathing room at 18:01 of the third when he zoomed down the left boards and whistled a wrist shot past Nagelvoort.
“We were just riding the energy of the arena,” LaBate said. “It was a packed house and you can feel that when you’re on the ice. You can feel the excitement that the crowd’s giving you. The whole team just built off that.”
That set up a testy finish, with Copp smack in the middle of it all.
The Wolverines thought they pulled within 3-2 with an extra attacker with 41 seconds left — center JT Compher appeared to beat Rumpel from the right circle — but a video review determined Copp was in the crease.
That gave way to a sequence that began when right winger Derek DeBlois was whistled for slashing with 33 seconds left. Well after the whistle, Copp popped Zengerle along the boards, touching off multiple flare-ups.
“We didn’t have a good experience with them at the end of the game there,” Michigan winger Luke Moffatt said. “Things got out of hand. I’ll leave it at that.”
Michigan 1 0 0 — 1
Wisconsin 1 1 1 — 3
First period: W — Simonelli 5 (LaBate, Schulze), 14:06. M — Copp 11 (Bennett, Guptill), 17:44 (pp). Penalties: Soleway, W, 4:59; De Jong, M, 11:31; Soleway, W, 17:25.
Second period: W — Drake 2 (Mersch, Zulinick), 12:04. Penalties: Barnes, W, 17:00.
Third period: W — LaBate 7 (Dahl, Schulze), 18:01. Penalties: Downing, M, 9:16; De Blois, M, 19:27; Copp, M (double minor), 19:27; Guptill, M, 19:27; Barnes, W, 19:27; Zengerle, W, 19:27; McCabe, W, 19:27.
Saves: M (Nagelvoort 14-7-13) 34; W (Rumpel 9-11-8) 28.
Power plays: M 1-for-3; W 0-for-3.
Att. — 14,273.