ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As a key road series approached, coach Tony Granato said his University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team had returned to a place in the standings befitting the group’s potential.
He said the Badgers had “climbed and scratched and clawed” to get into the top three of the Big Ten Conference, but that more needed to be done to make it a long-term stay.
“Now is where we have to play our best hockey,” Granato said Friday morning, “to show that we are a top team in our conference.”
It was a little slow in developing Saturday night, but the 18th-ranked Badgers showed their good side in earning a split with No. 20 Michigan.
Trent Frederic scored and added two assists in posting his second straight three-point game in UW’s 4-2 victory at Yost Ice Arena.
Behind Kyle Hayton’s 32 saves and a three-goal first period, the Badgers swapped places with Michigan in the standings for a second straight night. They climbed into third, one point ahead of the Wolverines with four games to play.
Granato thought Saturday’s game was the opposite of Friday’s 5-3 loss, in which Michigan was opportunistic in the first period.
“Last night, I thought we played a better game,” he said. “Tonight, we played a smarter game at times.”
The Badgers had to rely on Hayton early before they found their footing. Hayton, making his first start in five games, was up to the test.
Hayton wasn’t able to dress for Friday’s game and said he was feeling “average at best” Saturday after experiencing flu-like symptoms.
His play was better than average.
Hayton made a quick left pad save on Sam Piazza in the opening 30 seconds before Cooper Marody fired the rebound high of the net.
Hayton also denied Tony Calderone on a breakaway and smothered a Dakota Raabe shot from the slot in the first five minutes of the first period.
“I think that was a huge point for us,” said Hayton, who made 14 of his 32 saves in the first period. “We gave up a few good chances, and I had to come up pretty big there. So it was nice to be able to help them out and do my job.”
The Badgers got two deposits from regular goal-scoring contributors in the first period and one from a new donor to take control of the game.
Frederic scored his team-high 14th goal of the season — and his sixth in the past seven games — on a rebound to put the Badgers ahead after Michigan had the better of the game’s opening minutes.
“Any time you can get ahead in the game, I think we feel more confident playing ahead,” Frederic said. “It’s good to get that first one.”
A power-play goal that rolled in off Ryan Wagner less than five minutes later was the senior’s third goal of the series, fourth in the past three games and 13th of the year.
Senior Cullen Hurley added to the first-period push with his first goal of the season and second in his 29-game UW career. He made Wolverines goalie Hayden Lavigne pay for another rebound.
The power play struck for the second time in the second period when Frederic won a faceoff back to Wyatt Kalynuk, who blasted a slap shot past Lavigne.
That ended the night for Lavigne (11 saves), who exited as Jack LaFontaine (18 saves) entered the Michigan crease.
At that point, the Badgers’ power play was 2-for-2 on two shots on goal, with the top unit never having left the ice.
Frederic recorded his second straight three-point game and has three goals and eight points in four games for the Badgers (14-13-4, 8-9-3-1 Big Ten) at Yost Ice Arena.
“He’s on a roll now,” Granato said. “It’s not the goals. It’s the faceoff battle, it’s the defensive play, it’s the penalty kill. It’s everything. He’s just playing great.”
Jake Slaker scored in the second period and Jack Becker in the third for the Wolverines (13-13-2, 8-10-2-1).
But with the Badgers riding high-minute forwards Frederic, Wagner and Cameron Hughes for a second straight night, they finished the job Saturday.
“From last night to tonight, to be able to give us an effort like that tonight after what we did with them last night, it shows who they are,” Granato said of the three members of the team’s leadership group. “They had to dig down to find energy.”
Wisconsin 3 1 0 — 4
Michigan 0 1 1 — 2
First period: W — Frederic 14 (Inamoto, Weissbach), 8:08; Wagner 13 (Frederic, Hughes), 13:00 (pp); Hurley 1 (Linhart, Kalynuk), 13:56. Penalties: Raabe, M, 12:08; Freytag, W, 19:11.
Second period: W — Kalynuk 3 (Frederic), 3:27 (pp). M — Slaker 12 (Piazza, Norris), 12:48. Penalties: Sanchez, M, 3:22; Boka, M, 6:52; Ustaski, W, 10:42; Tischke, W, 17:06; N. Pastujov, M, 19:32.
Third period: M — Becker 6 (Norris, Slaker), 8:42 (pp). Penalties: Kalynuk, W, 1:10; S. Dhooghe, W, 7:21; Tischke, W, 10:24; Warren, M, 13:48.
Saves: W (Hayton 14-9-9) 32; M (Lavigne 9-2-x, LaFontaine x-9-9) 29. Power plays: W 2-for-5; M 1-for-6. Att. — 5,800.