CHICAGO — The record will show that the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team didn’t lose on Sunday.
The sullen reactions of Badgers players as they left the United Center ice showed how much they disagreed.
The Badgers battled No. 12 Notre Dame to a 2-2 tie, with UW’s third line centered by Chicago-area native Dominick Mersch figuring heavily into the offense.
But the Fighting Irish took home the extra Big Ten Conference point in the 3-on-3 overtime when Spencer Stastney ripped the water bottle holder off the back of the net with a shot to the top left corner.
Another close game for UW, another sour taste.
“It (stinks),” Mersch said. “There’s not a really good way to put it at all. We played hard. We played our hearts out and guys were battling for each other. I guess we get that one point, but we wanted all three.”
Said goaltender Jack Berry: “Our whole team thought we should have won that game. It’s unfortunate.”
Mersch and Roman Ahcan scored in the first period for the Badgers in front of an announced crowd of 5,031, but Notre Dame’s Cale Morris stopped UW’s final 29 shots on goal, 19 of them in the second period.
The Badgers were tied in the third period for the fourth straight game; they had lost the previous three, with the team not able to find the last piece of the puzzle to claim a victory.
The tie made them 4-5-4 this season when tied at any point in the third period.
“When the game’s on the line, we’ve got to make more plays,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “Let’s face it: How many games have been tied in the third period where you’re playing great and you feel like you’re going to win, and you end up coming out losers?”
Mersch was a big part of the play in the first period, scoring the opening goal, assisting on Ahcan’s buzzer-beater and sitting in the penalty box for Notre Dame’s score in between.
The freshman from nearby Park Ridge, Illinois, put home his third goal of the season 6:25 into the game on a wrist shot from the left circle that sailed past Morris’ glove.
He was called for interference late in the period, leading to Michael Graham’s third power-play goal of the series.
But Mersch, one of six Chicago-area players in the Badgers’ lineup, redeemed himself in the final seconds. He won an offensive-zone faceoff with six seconds remaining after Notre Dame put the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt.
That left enough time — by only a half-second — for Ahcan to backhand the puck high into the net after Tyler Inamoto’s shot off the draw rebounded hard off the glass.
“It was pretty cool,” Mersch said of scoring at the United Center, repeating a feat from his youth, when he played a squirt-level game at the venue. “We might need to get some more games here.”
It was the second contest in a two-year contract between UW, the Fighting Irish and the United Center for games at the neutral site. The Badgers won 5-0 last season, ending then-No. 1 Notre Dame’s winning streak at 16 games.
On Sunday, UW (8-10-4, 4-4-4-1 Big Ten) outshot Notre Dame 34-28 and 19-8 in the middle frame. But the Irish (13-8-2, 6-6-1-1) got the only goal of the second with Graham scoring on a breakaway via an opening up the middle of the rink.
Graham, a freshman who gained more ice time because of injuries to the Irish’s top three goal-scorers, had one goal in 20 games entering the series. He scored four times against the Badgers.
“When you lose some of your top-line players, other guys get an opportunity to step up,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “And Michael stepped up into that role on the power play where (leading goal-scorer) Cal Burke had been.”
The third period was a wash, as was the five-minute, 5-on-5 overtime, which left the game as a tie for NCAA purposes.
The Badgers opened the supplementary extra session, used only for conference standings, with 1:48 of power-play time but couldn’t capitalize on the 4-on-3 advantage.
“That’s the time, when the game’s on the line, where when you’re confident and things are going well and your team believes, you get it done,” Granato said.
“We had a few good chances but they didn’t go in their net. They get a good chance in our end a few minutes later and they can celebrate and we can hang our heads and wish we did something different.”
First period: W — Mersch 3 (Gorniak, S. Dhooghe), 6:25. N — Graham 4 (O’Leary, Nardella), 18:29 (pp). W — Ahcan 4 (Caufield, Inamoto), 19:59. Penalties: Dello, N, 1:10; Clurman, N, 7:21; Mersch, W, 17:44.
Second period: N — Graham 5 (Hellickson), 10:35. Penalties: Stastney, N, 2:56; Slaggert, N, 10:54; Kalynuk, W, 14:44.
Third period penalties: Ahcan, W, 7:42; Hellickson, N, 7:42.
Overtime penalty: Pivonka, N, 4:47.
3-on-3 overtime: Stastney (Pivonka, A. Steeves), 2:57.
Saves: N (Morris 3-19-8-2) 32; W (Berry 8-7-9-2) 26. Power plays: N 1-for-2; W 0-for-5. Att. — 5,031.