CHICAGO — The emotions of losing a friend earlier in the day left Tony Granato not wanting to coach a hockey game Sunday.
He thanked his University of Wisconsin players after a comprehensive 5-0 victory over No. 1 Notre Dame at the United Center for doing the heavy lifting while he and his associate head coaches had heavy hearts.
Granato’s former Badgers teammate, Jim Johannson, who was due to be general manager of the U.S. Olympic team that Granato will coach next month, died early Sunday morning.
The news reached the UW coaching staff, all of whom have worked with Johannson, at their downtown hotel hours before the game.
“It was the hardest game I’ve had to stand behind a bench and try to coach,” Granato said. “I didn’t need to coach tonight. They (the players) took it over. They saw the meaning of what it meant.”
A career high-matching 40 saves by Jack Berry and goals from five players gave the Badgers a result they hope will be a spark for the rest of the season.
They ended Notre Dame’s winning streak at 16 games and handed the first-place Fighting Irish their first Big Ten Conference loss with a strong outing in all areas.
The power play cashed in twice for the first time since Dec. 1, and a Trent Frederic short-handed goal in the second period gave UW a two-goal advantage.
UW has stumbled through the past three months, falling below .500 twice. But players and coaches have held firm that the kind of result earned Sunday was in there somewhere.
“There’s so much belief in that locker room,” said Naperville, Illinois, native Seamus Malone, who scored a power-play goal. “After that win, you could tell. We’re ready to go.
“We want to play again. I think that was the turning point in our season.”
UW (12-12-3, 6-8-2 Big Ten) beat the top-ranked team in the USCHO.com poll for the 15th time in 37 tries since 1997 and became the first team to score more than two goals on Notre Dame (19-4-1, 13-1) since Nov. 10.
The Irish hadn’t lost since Oct. 26.
“They wanted it more than we did tonight,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said.
Granato said he turned to Berry for the start in goal Sunday instead of returning to Kyle Hayton as a reaction to Friday, when he said UW played well but lost 4-2 at Notre Dame.
“I thought tonight we needed to win, and we needed a big performance,” Granato said. “And we got it.”
Berry was busy early. He turned away an Andrew Oglevie redirection in front of the net three minutes into the game, and he denied Cam Morrison on a breakaway in the final two minutes of the opening period after Frederic lost the puck at the opposite blue line.
The sophomore also made 40 saves in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota on Dec. 2, but this time he didn’t allow anything past him.
“I definitely felt confident out there,” Berry said. “It’s really easy when our (defense) box out. When I can play aggressive, that’s when I feel the best.”
An end-to-end rush by Wyatt Kalynuk gave the Badgers a first-period lead that was important, Granato said, in ensuring that UW wasn’t having to chase the Irish.
The defenseman took a pass from Jake Linhart behind his own net and started up ice, eluding a defender and using a shot fake to get another to commit to a block attempt.
From a sharp angle, he snuck the puck between the pads of goaltender Cale Morris (41 saves).
“He’s so smooth with the puck,” Malone said of Kalynuk.
“To finish the way he did, it was unbelievable, and that jump-started our whole game.”
UW widened its advantage with Frederic’s breakaway, short-handed goal and Malone’s power-play laser in the second period.
Linus Weissbach and Aurora, Illinois, native Sean Dhooghe scored in the final minute to give the Badgers their largest margin of victory of the season.
An emotional day brought an emotional victory for UW.
“It just goes to show how much we wanted to play for them,” Malone said of Granato and associate head coaches Mark Osiecki and Mark Strobel.
“We wanted to play for Badger Nation. We wanted to play for everyone that knew him, everyone that was close with him. It just meant a lot for the Badgers in general.”
Wisconsin 1 2 2 — 5
Notre Dame 0 0 0 — 0
First period: W — Kalynuk 2 (Linhart, S. Dhooghe), 15:07. Penalties: Oglevie, ND, 11:26; Wagner, W, 12:33; Cook, ND, 19:24.
Second period: W — Frederic 11, 14:05 (sh); Malone 9 (Kalynuk, S. Dhooghe), 19:11 (pp). Penalties: Peeke, ND, 2:11; Malone, W, 12:19; Tischke, W, 14:47; Gilbert, ND, 17:55.
Third period: W — Weissbach 7 (Wagner, Hughes), 19:23 (pp); S. Dhooghe 6 (Malone), 19:52. Penalties: Hughes, W, 8:12; Evans, ND, 11:57; Peeke, ND, 18:32; Inamoto, W, 19:33; O’Leary, ND, 19:33; Brauer, ND (major, game misconduct), 19:33; Greenway, W (major, game misconduct), 19:33.
Saves: W (Berry 16-10-14) 40; ND (Morris 16-11-14) 41.
Power plays: W 2-for-6; ND 0-for-5.
Att. — 9,313.