It's over. Wisconsin's nightmare of a hockey season has reached its conclusion.
In front of an announced crowd of 3,465 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Badgers fell to Michigan in aquarterfinal, 5-1.
With the loss, UW officially saw its season come to an end. Wisconsin's final record stands at a modern-era program low of 4-26-5.
While there's no doubt the Wolverines deserved to win the game, the score may not be indicative of the contest. The final score ended 5-1, but the Badgers had cut Michigan's lead to 3-1 with 10:46 to play in the third period. Wisconsin had an opportunity to dig even deeper into the lead with a five-on-three power play just minutes later, but couldn't get anything going, and eventually Michigan pulled away.
"As disappointing as it is to end the season, these young men, they earned the right to walk out of the rink with their heads held up high," head coach Mike Eaves said. "They could have folded. They didn't. They kept battling and we were there hoping for another goal late in the game."
While the result wasn't what Wisconsin wanted, you can't fault the effort. The 18 skaters in uniform along with goaltender Joel Rumpel battled until the final horn.
"I think our effort was there, but our execution tonight wasn't," UW senior captain Chase Drake said. "Maybe we could actually feel a little better with a lucky bounce. That always helps a little bit. It rallies the guys. We just didn't have that spark tonight."
While the Badgers didn't get any lucky bounces, it seemed as if the Wolverines received an entire season's worth in one game. Michigan's first three goals of the game came on fluke plays where the puck ended up in the back of the Wisconsin goal. Truth be told, Rumpel didn't have a chance on any of Michigan's first three tallies.
The Wolverines opened the scoring late in the first period on Zach Hyman's 20th goal of the season. The Hobey Baker finalist was able to pick up a rebound off a shot that rang off the post and deposited the loose biscuit into the back of the Wisconsin cage for the 1-0 advantage.
Michigan would extend the lead to 2-0 early in the second frame. The goal, which was credited to Andrew Sinelli, bounced off the stick of a UW defender and curved into the net, fooling Rumpel who had no chance after the change of direction. Less than three minutes later it was 3-0 when Hyman added his second of the night on a deflection off the stick of Cutler Martin.
Jedd Soleway would put Wisconsin on the board 9:14 into the third period. With a loose puck sitting in the Michigan crease, Soleway, a sophomore power forward that could be confused with a professional body-builder, muscled the puck over the line. After a brief review by the officials, the Badgers were on the board.
"Then there's hope, there's actual hope," Eaves said, talking about the emotion after the goal. "Then you get that five-on-three and (Grant) Besse breaks his stick and we do a couple things we don't set it up really like we like to. But I love the spirit. The execution, like the boys said, was a little off."
Michigan would go on to extend its lead with goals from Dylan Larkin and Justin Selman to close out the 5-1 win.
The line of Larkin, Selman and Hyman finished the night with four goals and nine points. In five games this season against Wisconsin, the trio accumulated 14 goals and 33 points.
"They have things you don't teach," Eaves said. They have abilities you don't teach. That's what you have to find in young players that you recruit. And you try to limit what they can get done. But in the end they got some things done against us tonight."
At the end of the day, it just wasn't meant to be for the Badgers. UW fell behind early, and a team lacking a significant offensive threat didn't have the ability to forge a comeback.
"We had a few little bad breaks early," Eaves said. "But this group showed us resilience and hung around. With five minutes to go, we were knocking on the door with a power play and they got two late goals and that was the difference."
For the six seniors on the Wisconsin roster, this is the end of the road in a Badgers sweater. Matt Paape, Landon Peterson, Joseph LaBate, Brad Navin, Joel Rumpel and Chase Drake, were all contributors at one significant time or another. Some will move on to professional hockey. Others into industry. All will be successful.
"It's always tough to end the season, especially for our six seniors," Eaves said.
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