Mersch Steps Up Playoff Game
Scores Twice as Badgers Advance to Big Ten Final
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. After defeating Penn State, Michael Mersch walked up to the microphone. He wore a grey Wisconsin shirt with a slogan written in red.
“Ascent to the top.”
Mersch had struggled in previous postseasons, and put up two points in six playoff games last year when Wisconsin won the WCHA championship.
“I know that there [were] questions about Michael's production at playoff time,” coach Mike Eaves said. “And offense is always a thing that's talked about at playoff time, whether a person is clutch or that type of thing.
“Offense is a real finicky type of thing. It comes and goes. It's a creative thing.”
In the regular season, Mersch was an offensive force for the Badgers, and his 33 points this season were tied with Nic Kerdiles for second on the team. And last season Mersch led Wisconsin’s offense with 36 points.
But it didn’t click in the playoffs.
Mersch responded by staying on the ice after practice, working hard to find his scoring touch from the regular season.
“He makes that down period of his creativity, his goal scoring [at a] minimum, because he keeps doing the things he needs to do to get himself going,” Eaves said.
On Friday, Mersch scored both of Wisconsin’s goals en route to a 2-1 Badger win over Penn State. The goals were his first in the playoffs since March 16, 2013 against Minnesota-Duluth.
“It's something that's always been in the back of my head,” Mersch said. “You want to contribute to your team, especially in crunch time at the end of the season.”
With his two goals, Mersch recorded points 36 and 37, marking a new single-season career high.
He scored the go-ahead goal with 11 seconds left in the second period, finding a puck on the doorstep. His first-period tally, where he dragged the puck through the crease and past Penn State’s Matthew Skoff, tied the game at 1-1.
“It was a matter of time,” Eaves said.
“[Mersch] knows that one of his responsibilities on our team is to be on the score sheet. He takes great pride on that.”
The Badgers started the game flat, and Penn State — after beating Michigan in double overtime the night before — scored first.
“They're in game mode right away,” Eaves said. “The quickness of their decisions, the ability of them to move the puck right away.
“We were a step behind.”
The Badgers threw 34 shots at Penn State’s Matthew Skoff, including a flurry and increased pressure in the last minute of regulation. It kept Penn State from pulling Skoff for an extra attacker.
The Badgers have won seven straight at the Xcel Energy Center since falling to St Could State in the 2-0 in the WCHA Final Five in 2010. Last year, Wisconsin won three straight games in St. Paul, Minn., to claim the WCHA Championship and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Even if they fall in the championship game, the Badgers are guaranteed an NCAA tournament berth.
“We're still playing like it could be our last game,” Badger goalkeeper Joel Rumpel said. “We won the last WCHA. …And we want to win the first Big Ten Tournament. So not much has changed.
“We're still playing like if we lose, we're dead.”