Over the years, the Wisconsin and Minnesota hockey rivalry has become synonymous with tough, physical play.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, their tough play – and the resulting penalties – proved the crucial difference maker in a comfortable 3-2 win for their rivals from the west.
All three of Minnesota’s goals Friday came while on the power play – one in each period – as they finished the night converting on three of four penalty plays.
A loss didn’t always seem inevitable for Wisconsin though. In fact midway through the first period, the Badgers got on the score sheet first with just over five minutes remaining in the period.
In a play that seemed to take the Kohl Center by surprise, freshman winger Nic Kerdiles found himself wide open in front of the Golden Gopher net, and put away a nicely-slotted pass for an easy finish.
That lead would not last long, however, after junior defenseman Frankie Simonelli was called for holding with just over two minutes remaining in the first period.
Down to only four men against the nation’s best scoring offense – Minnesota averaged 3.75 goals per game heading into the game – the Badgers’ defense held up for most of the penalty, but with just over a minute left to play in the period, Minnesota sophomore winger Sam Warning put away their first power-play goal of the night after Rumpel’s save landed right in front of him, just outside the crease.
Freshman winger Nic Kerdiles attributed Minnesota’s power play success to Minnesota’s awareness on the ice.
“They know where everybody is on the ice,” Kerdiles said. “They move the puck crisp, they are a good team and they showed it tonight, why they are the No. 1 in the nation on the power play.”
Tied in a deadlock for most of the second period, another costly set of penalties, this time called against sophomore winger Joseph LaBate for tripping and hooking, left the Badgers yet again on the penalty kill – this time a four-minute penalty kill against one of the best power-play teams in the nation.
While the Badgers defended valiantly, even getting a pair of close-range chances of their own, in the last minute of the four-minute Minnesota power play UM junior center Nick Bjustad ripped a shot from the left circle and buried it in the back of the net to give the Gophers their first lead of the game, and their second power play goal in three tries.
“We got caught in a long shift out there and got tired,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “When you get tired, bad things happen, and the bad thing that happened there was two minor penalties.”
In total, during the second period both teams accounted for four penalties adding up to a total of eight minutes in the penalty box as frustration seemed to take hold of both teams.
One final Gopher goal in the third period scored on yet another power play, solidified the lead at 3-1 and forced the Badgers to pull their goaltender with three minutes remaining in the game.
While they couldn’t manage a full comeback, a consolation goal scored by junior winger Tyler Barnes with just over a minute remaining could be a crucial confidence-builder as they prepare to face Minnesota one final time this season Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“I thought or whole team kind of came together at the end,” Barnes said of the final goal. “We really played hard, I mean we had our goalie pulled … and we were able to sustain pressure and get some quality chances.”