The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team found themselves on both sides of a 3-2 score this weekend, splitting games with Minnesota in a Border Battle that featured the Big Ten’s top two teams.
The No. 19 Badgers (18-10-1, 11-4-0 Big Ten) faced one of their biggest tests of the year as they traveled to Mariucci Arena to take on the No. 4 Gophers (20-9-2, 11-4-0) in a weekend series. Wisconsin was able to come away with victory on Friday, but they fell just short on Saturday, keeping them 3 points behind the Gophers in the Big Ten standings.
The weekend got off to a shaky start for Wisconsin after they conceded a goal just 28 seconds into their first match as Vinni Lettieri banked in a shot off the back of goalie Jack Berry.
But Berry and the Badgers responded well, stifling the Gophers for the rest of the period and heading into the middle frame only down by one. Wisconsin then ignited offensively in the second period, scoring three unanswered goals to jump out to a 3-1 lead.
Freshman Trent Frederic opened the scoring for the Badgers 3:42 into the period, knotting the score at one with his 15th goal of the season after converting on a 2-on-1. Wisconsin then claimed the lead just 3:40 later, as Aidan Cavallini put home a rebound from captain Luke Kunin on a short-handed opportunity.
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The second period finished just as strongly as it started for the Badgers, scoring with just 56 seconds left on a power play from Ryan Wagner, who deflected in a shot from Jake Linhart to give UW a 3-1 lead heading into the final frame.
The Gophers came at the Badgers with all they had in the final period, nearly doubling their total shots by barraging the goal with 18 efforts against Berry. Lettieri was able to break through for his second goal of the game, bringing the Gophers within one goal with just eight minutes left, but Berry stood tall until the end.
The Gophers pulled their goalie with 2:24 left in the game, but Wisconsin was able to ride out the last few minutes to take the 3-1 victory.
The freshman keeper Berry tied his career-high in saves in the process, stifling 36-of-38 Minnesota shots.
After the Wisconsin victory Friday, the two teams headed into Saturday night deadlocked for first place in the Big Ten, and the game didn’t disappoint.
As each team was looking to take sole possession of the Big Ten, the Gophers again jumped out to an early lead, scoring 8:24 into the opening period on a goal by Rem Pitlick. Minnesota added to their lead with just 5 seconds left in the period on a power-play score from Ryan Norman, putting the Badgers down two goals heading into the second period.
The middle frame again proved to be a prolific one for Wisconsin as they fought back with two power-play goals to knot the game up at two.
Captain Luke Kunin swung the momentum for the Badgers as he netted his 20th goal of the campaign 5:18 into the period, marking the first time a Wisconsin player has scored 20 or more goals since Michael Mersch notched 22 as a senior in 2013-14.
Jake Linhart then drew the Badgers level with 15.4 seconds left in the period, using Matt Ustaski’s goaltender screen to find the back of the net through the five-hole of Gophers’ goalie Eric Schierhorn.
With the score even at two heading into the final period, both teams searched for a winner, with the Gophers prevailing. With just 5:06 left in regulation, Minnesota captain Justin Kloos slotted the eventual game-winning goal past Badgers’ goalie Matt Jurusik.
Wisconsin earned a late power play and subsequently pulled their goalie, giving them a 6-to-4 skating advantage for the final minute of the game. They were almost able to draw level, but Eric Schierhorn came out of nowhere on an opportunity from Grant Besse, slowing his shot just enough so that Minnesota’s defense could clear the puck off the goal line and solidify their 3-2 win.
The series split drops the Badgers back into second place, 3 points behind the Gophers and 5 points clear of Penn State, who is in third. Wisconsin has four regular season games remaining, and heads to University Park next weekend to face the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions — who swept the Badgers in Madison earlier in the year — in a crucial conference matchup. The Friday face-off is set for 6 p.m. CT while the puck drops at 7 p.m. CT Saturday.