The Michigan Wolverines (18-9-1) dominated the Wisconsin Badgers (10-18) to extend their winning steak to five games and moved into a four-way tie for second in the Big Ten Conference standings.
Friday night was a special game for the Wolverines because it marked the return of defenseman Steven Holtz, who had been sidelined since November due to complications from adenovirus. The illness placed the junior defender in critical condition and almost claimed his life.
Less than three months later, Holtzy was back on the ice and both games played out like a celebration in honor of his return.
Michigan was dominant in the first game — outshooting the Badgers 48-25, controlling the neutral zone, overwhelming them in the face-off circle (34-25) and blowing them out on the scoreboard by a final of 6-2.
Despite Michigan controlling the game and maintaining a 1-0 lead, it appeared Wisconsin was up for a fight early when an opportunistic Badgers power play unit tied the game just short of the halfway point of the first period. However, this was it for Wisconsin with the game in the balance.
The Wolverines proceeded to unleash a barrage of five straight goals to blow this game wide open. Freshman sensation and the nation’s leading scorer Adam Fantilli accounted for four points (1 G, 3 A), only matched by his linemate and fellow freshman Gavin Brindley (2 G, 2 A) who has been one of the hottest players in the country post-World Juniors.
Mackie Samoskevich notched two points (1 G, 1 A) in his return from injury and Mark Estapa reclaimed his national lead in penalty minutes.
Goaltender Erik Portillo stopped 23-of-25 shots and only relented the second late in the game on a two-on-one opportunity.
It was all Michigan in its fourth consecutive win. Even interim head coach Brandon Naurato finally had a challenge ruled in his favor.
1- Steven Holtz, RETURNED
2- Gavin Brindley, 2 G, 2 A; 4 PTS
3- Adam Fantilli, 1 G, 3 A; 4 PTS
In game two, it was the more of the same. Michigan opened up with a 3-0 lead in a chaotic first period that included seven goals and seven penalties. Fortunately for the home team, five of the seven goals were in Michigan’s favor which carried a 5-2 lead into the second period.
The Wolverines scored another pair of goals in the middle period and —with a commanding 7-2 lead —removed any hope of a possible Wisconsin comeback. Michigan coasted through the final period of action and even as the Badgers added a pair of goals in the final frame, it all proved futile as the Wolverines prevailed, 7-4.
The other Hughes (TJ) was the star in this one by tallying four points. Eric Ciccolini fired home two goals, while Nick Granowicz (1 G, 1 A) and Samo (2 A) each added two points of their home.
The Wolverines have now won a season-high five games in a row and will face two of the three teams they are tied with (Michigan State, Ohio State) in the Big Ten over the next three weeks ahead of the Big Ten Tournament. However, the biggest story of the weekend was by far is the return of Holtz who proved that even if Hell freezes over, he’s capable of skating on it.
1- TJ Hughes, 1 G, 3 A; 4 PTS.
2- Eric Ciccolini, 2 G
3- Nick Granowicz, 1 G, 1 A; 2 PTS