Jan. 10, 2014
On January 12, 1923, when the University of Michigan men's ice hockey team took the ice as an official varsity team for the first time, the opponent that night was the Wisconsin Badgers. Nearly 91 years have passed since that historic moment on the corner of South 5th Avenue and Hill Street at Weinberg Coliseum, but almost to the day, Michigan and Wisconsin will meet again in another first for both programs -- the first Big Ten Hockey game between the Wolverines and Badgers.
According to Blue Ice: The Story of Michigan Hockey, in 1923 the Wolverines assembled for their first practice under head coach Joseph Barss just five days before the program's first game against Wisconsin. Tickets weren't sold until 1 p.m. on game day, but still 600 people showed up to watch the Wolverines and Badgers, both members of the newly formed Western Intercollegiate Hockey league clash for the first time.
Michigan won that night, 2-1, in double overtime, as Eddie Kahn scored the first goal for the Wolverines, and Robert Anderson scored the game-winner in a contest that was colorfully described in The Michigan Daily.
"Both teams showed some brilliant individual play but the combination was lacking for the most part due to the face that neither squad has had more than 10 days' practice," wrote Daily writer Frank H. McPike. "The Badgers had a more effective combination play than the Maize and Blue but at best it was weak."
The Wolverines beat the Badgers again the following night by a 1-0 score, and Michigan dominated the series in the early years, owning an 8-1-1 record in its first 10 games against Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's hockey program folded in 1933 just as U-M began to flourish in the sport.
"When I played at Michigan in the late 50s and early 60s, Wisconsin didn't even have a program," said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "Our big rival was Minnesota and to a lesser extent Michigan State."
In the three decades without Wisconsin on the college hockey scene, Michigan won seven national titles. But when Wisconsin's program returned, it quickly became a powerhouse under head coach Bob Johnson. It wasn't a coincidence that Michigan returned as a regular opponent on the Badgers' schedule shortly thereafter. When Wisconsin joined the WCHA in 1969, Michigan and Wisconsin again became conference rivals.
The Badgers owned a 36-22 record against the Wolverines during Johnson's tenure, winning three national titles, including a 6-5 (OT) win over the Wolverines in the 1977 NCAA Frozen Four Championship at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. Current Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves was a junior forward that season for the Badgers and recalled the experience of playing Michigan in a virtual road game for the national championship in a recent article in Wisconsin Athletics' Varsity Magazine.
"Both of our games in Detroit were tension packed, and it was a good experience to go through because it's the type of thing you're going to see in life," Eaves said in the article.
Yet, despite the history between the two teams, after Michigan left the WCHA for the CCHA in 1981, the two teams played just once in the next 12 years, a meeting in the 1987 Great Lakes Invitational.
In 1993, with Berenson at the helm and the Wolverines and Badgers both firmly entrenched as national powers in college hockey, the two schools worked out a deal to play one another on a regular basis.
"We got together with Joel Maturi, then the associate athletic director at Wisconsin," Berenson said. "We talked about scheduling games with each other, and by the time the conversation was over, the College Hockey Showcase, an annual Thanksgiving showcase between Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, was born. From that point on, we played Wisconsin once a year, and Minnesota once a year until three years ago."
After a brief hiatus in the series, the two of college hockey's brand names will meet again this weekend as Big Ten rivals.
"With the Big Ten conference, we'll play Wisconsin two home, two away, every year, plus what happens in the playoffs," Berenson said. "I think you're going to see a more intense rivalry now than you've ever seen with both teams."
Contact: Jeffrey Weinstein (734) 763-4423