CHICAGO – It took 30 shots on goal and 33:03 off the clock, but it was well worth the wait for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
At the 13:03 mark of the second period the Badgers found their way onto the scoreboard for a 1-0 lead – 3:19 later and they led 3-0. The three goals held strong as the No. 18 Badgers took the 3-2 win in the long anticipated Hockey City Classic over the No. 2 Minnesota Gophers.
After dropping game one in Madison 3-2 to Minnesota (20-6-4, 12-6-4), Wisconsin (13-10-8, 10-7-7) kept things simple on the rough ice conditions en route to victory.
“I was asked several times this week if we regret giving up a home game, the answer is still no,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “The experience we had today is a lifetime experience – that’s the tradeoff that we get.
“It’s not just another game in the second half of the season.”
Minnesota native Kevin Schulze was the first to strike for UW. With Wisconsin’s tenth shot on goal, the freshman defenseman found the back of the net on a long shot to give Wisconsin the 1-0 lead.
With few opportunities at this point – compared to Minnesota’s 20 shots on goal at the time – the Badgers had already rung two pucks off the pipes of Adam Wilcox’s net.
But Wisconsin came away with the all-important first score.
“We knew the first goal would be critical in this game,” Gophers head coach Don Lucia said.
“After that first period that we had, we didn’t seem to be on our toes, we seemed to be on our heels a bit,” Eaves said. “Getting that goal gave us confidence.”
Wisconsin wasn’t done yet. Just over a minute later at the 14:13 mark, senior defenseman John Ramage threw the puck on net to make it 2-0. While Ramage – who was playing in the second outdoor game of his career – was credited with the goal, the puck was actually deflected in off Gopher defenseman Mike Reilly’s glove.
Before the teams headed into the second intermission, junior Sean Little scored his second goal of the season – and the fourth of his career – to round off the Badgers’ second period onslaught, cleaning up a rebound back door off a shot on net. After a scoreless first, the Badgers suddenly held a commanding 3-0 lead.
“In the second period we threw literally everything that we had at him,” Ramage said. “Shots from the corner, shots from anywhere on the ice. We happened to get a couple good bounces and things went in.”
Trailing at the start of the third period, Minnesota held an overwhelming 27-16 shot on goal advantage – but its offense couldn’t be held off too long.
Only 2:36 into the third, the Gophers found their way on the score board as sophomore forward Seth Ambroz hacked away at the puck, eventually flipping it over Rumpel’s leg near the post.
In an eerily similar situation to Friday night where the Badgers skated for nearly three minutes with an empty net to end the game – an effort in which they did score an extra-man goal at the hands of junior Tyler Barnes – the Gophers pulled Wilcox for just over the final two minutes of the game. The extra man worked to Minnesota’s favor, as junior forward Zach Budish cut Wisconsin’s lead 3-2 with 1:42 left on the clock.
When all was said and done – and a 3-2 win in the Hockey City Classic to their name – the Badgers only managed 19 shots on goal to the Gophers 38. With 36 saves on the night, Wisconsin awarded Joel Rumpel – who made his second consecutive start against the Gophers – the game puck.
“His performance in the first period allowed us to get our feet underneath us,” Eaves said.
“Him and [goalie Landon Peterson] have been unbelievable for us all year,” Little said. “He stood on his head in the first and played a very solid game. I don’t think we take him for granted at all, we know how important he is to our team’s success.”
With emotions running high due to the setting and the fact the two had faced each other a mere 40 hours ago, several fights broke out between the rivals. But the Badgers were able to stay slightly more disciplined and effectively killed the two power plays they did give the Gophers after giving up three power play goals Friday night.
Ramage, who was the only Badger to play in the outdoor game at Camp Randall in 2010, felt the 3-2 win over the Gophers topped his prior experience.
“It was a great, great deal to be in Madison at Camp Randall,” Ramage said. “But I think for our team, this year playing at Soldier Field, playing against Minnesota … this definitely overtakes it.”