The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team earned an impressive four points against No. 7 University of Minnesota with an overtime loss Friday and a comeback, 5-3 win Saturday. The win kept the Badgers in the top half of the Big Ten standings at No. 3, behind the Gophers and the red-hot University of Penn State.
The Gophers jumped on the home team early Friday, shutting the Badgers out 2-0 in the first period and putting up a whopping 18 shots on goal to Wisconsin’s six.
“That’s a heck of a team and they didn’t let us get to our game, they kept us on our heels and kind of off balance all period and that’s why they’re ranked fifth or sixth in the country,” head coach Tony Granato said.
The early goings of the game spelled blowout for the young Badgers, who the high-flying Gopher offense seemingly overmatched. Wisconsin needed some momentum if they were to hang with a top-10 team like Minnesota. That momentum came when sophomore captain Luke Kunin found the back of the net less than a minute into the second period.
Kunin’s score got the ball rolling for the Badgers and when the referee called Minnesota for tripping just moments later, the Kohl Center knew they had a game on their hands. The border rivals went penalty-for-penalty and shot-for-shot as the second period ensued, each team scoring once more to end the period with a 3-2 Gopher lead.
Emotions and tempers flared as the game went into its final frame, each team battling its heart out both in between and outside the whistles. The Gophers outshot the Badgers 29-18 up until that point, but the young Jack Berry was not fazed in front of his own net. The freshman had stopped 26 of those onslaughts and would finish the game with an impressive 36 saves.
“I thought Berry was real big for us early in the game. It could’ve been a little bit bigger lead for them so I think that was important,” Granato said.
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If the first two periods weren’t exciting enough, the third would turn out to be a thrilling finish to this rivalry game. The Badgers took the offensive, sending shot after shot at Minnesota’s Eric Schierhorn until finally, midway through the final period, freshman phenome Trent Frederic found the back of the net to tie the game.
The Kohl Center absolutely erupted as Frederic caught his teammates in celebration, but the job was far from finished. Just more than 10 minutes remained in the game as each team poured their hearts onto the ice in attempt to seal the victory. With just 30 seconds left the Badgers released a flurry of shots in front of the Gopher goaltender, sending the Badger crowd into a frenzy as each attempt was deflected before the clock hit zero.
It seemed as though the Badgers were right where they wanted to be, taking the No. 7-ranked team into overtime, coming off an incredible offensive sequence.
But, like every elite team, Minnesota would bend but not break. The Gophers rallied in overtime and closed out the game when senior captain Justin Kloos snuck by the Wisconsin defense to give Minnesota the win.
“They’ve got so much speed that fall asleep for one second or you give them one opportunity on a rush they can beat you and that’s what happened in overtime,” Granato said postgame.
The play for Wisconsin would only get better on Saturday. The win came down to surprising plays from some relatively unknown players for the Badgers as Will Johnson, Cameron Hughes, Tim Davison and Frederic all tallied goals in less than a period.
Johnson got the puck sliding early with a goal late in the first period to open the scoring in the Kohl Center. Minnesota would rally with two quick goals to take an end-of-first-period lead, but were unable to hold onto the momentum in the second period.
After a goal from Hughes about midway through the game, Davison slipped a shot by Schierhorn to give the Badgers a 3-2 lead and notch his first goal in well more than a year. The next few minutes were an attacking onslaught for Wisconsin, scoring at the end of the second and just 57 seconds into the third.
The 5-2 lead was too much for the Gophers to overcome and, despite their third goal of the game with about 10 minutes to go, their seven-game win streak would end in Madison. Even with the first-place spot in the Big Ten, Minnesota suffered their first loss to Wisconsin since 2013 and ended their weekend on a low note.
As for the Badgers, their dominant victory makes one of the biggest statements of the year in college hockey: Wisconsin is back. After sitting right on the cusp of being ranked a week ago, UW will undoubtedly move into the top 25 for the first time in years.
The Badgers now move on to Columbus, Ohio for a two-game series with Ohio State University and another big opportunity to move up in the conference rankings. While the first game will be played at Ohio State, the two teams then travel to New York for a primetime matchup on BTN.
The puck drops on Thursday in Columbus at 6 p.m. CDT and on Saturday in New York at 6 p.m.