Mersch hat trick leads Wisconsin past No. 8 Wolverines
MADISON, Wis. – After more than a one-month interlude, the No. 14 Wisconsin men's hockey team's return to Big Ten hockey was a successful one as the Badgers used a pair of fortuitous early bounces and staved off a late Michigan (10-5-2, 2-1-0 B1G) rally to secure a 5-2 victory.
Wisconsin (12-6-1, 3-2-0 B1G) raced out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of fluky goals. With both teams struggling early to gain traction on the offensive end, the Badgers benefitted from simply putting the puck on the net and waiting for good things to happen.
Lucky for the Badgers, it only took 4:16 to get their first break. It came off a Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) shot from the left side, which appeared to be heading wide of the net. Instead, Michigan goalie Zach Nagelvoort reached out his glove to snag it and inadvertently redirected the offering into the goal for a UW score.
UW's capitalized again at the 8:13 mark of the first period, when Grant Besse (Plymouth, Minn.) fed the puck towards the crease from behind the goal line and saw it tick off a Wolverine skate and into the net.
The Badgers were able to take the 2-0 lead into the first intermission due in no small part to their penalty kill, which stifled the Wolverines on a pair of man advantages late in the first, setting the tone for an impressive night by the unit.
After the second period did nothing to change the score, the Badgers appeared to put the game away when Jefferson Dahl (Eau Claire, Wis.) pushed in a rebounding Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) shot to swell the UW lead to 3-0 with 8:13 to play.
But Michigan came roaring back on the strength of a pair of late third-period goals that cut the Wisconsin edge to 3-2 with 2:02 to go.
Fortunately for the Badgers, Mersch answered with a pair of goals of his own to erase the Wolverines' comeback hopes, earn his first-career hat trick and give the Badgers their first hat trick since Justin Schultz in November of 2010. The first tally came on an empty net with 78 seconds to play, while the second score served as an exclamation point just 38 seconds later.
Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) improved to 9-1-0 on the year by saving 27 of 29 shots, while Nagelvoort, who entered the game as the Big Ten's leader in goals-against average, allowed four goals on 29 shots.
Wisconsin finished the night 0-2 on the power play, while Michigan found the back of the net once on five chances.
UW looks for its second-straight sweep of the conference season on Saturday night, as they meet the Wolverines for the series finale at 7 p.m. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Wisconsin alternate and will be shown on delay on the Wisconsin Channel.
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