Its officially time to stop doubting the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team. The Badgers (5-5-0, 1-1-0 Big Ten) opened their Big Ten season at home against perennial powerhouse and No. 16 ranked Minnesota Gophers (2-4-1, 1-1-0 Big Ten), and it was a battle all weekend long in front of a packed Kohl Center. The Gophers led a furious comeback in the first matchup, winning 3–2, but Wisconsin came roaring back Saturday night to even up the series with a 3–1 win.
The Border Battle kicked off with an easy one-timer for Badgers’ freshman forward Brock Caufield who was left open ten minutes into the first period. It gave UW a 1–0 lead, and a strong start that carried into the second period. Even though they weren’t able to capitalize on a few power plays, Wisconsin got another huge goal from Philadelphia Flyers Draft Pick Wyatt Kalynuk off of a sloppy Minnesota turnover. It marked Kalynuk’s fifth goal of the season, which led the Badgers at the time and put the team up front 2–0. The lead, however, wouldn’t last long.
The Gophers took their time to get going, but once they did, they didn’t stop for anything, scoring three goals in 74 seconds before the third period even got going. The flurry of goals caught the Badgers off guard, who were never really able to bounce back, losing by a final score of 3–2.
When asked about the chance to come back after the three goals, UW coach Tony Granato acknowledged the team’s inability to mount a comeback.
“I think it took a little bit for us to get our energy back. I think we were stunned about what happened,” Granato said.
But while Wisconsin couldn’t get their energy back for the third period, they most definitely regained it before Saturday’s matchup.
With 11:15 left in the first period, Minnesota’s Brannon McManus took advantage of a power play and netted his third goal of the season to give the Gophers a 1–0 lead. But the Badgers would soon have a 4–3 advantage of their own, which opened up a chance for sophomore Sean Dhooghe to tip one in. It was Dhooghe’s sixth goal of the season, which was ironic because the tip-in came off of Kalynuk’s shot, who had just tied him at five in the previous game.
Dhooghe’s goal was the last for either team for a while, as both goalkeepers put on fabulous performances. The Gophers got 29 of 31 saves from senior goalkeeper Eric Schierhorn, but gave up a go-ahead goal with 10:20 on the clock to Badger defenseman Josh Ess. UW went on to grab the 3-1 victory on an open-netter with 24 seconds left from Jack Gorniak, who became the sixth freshman on this Wisconsin team to score a goal this season.
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The MVP was without a doubt UW freshman goalkeeper Daniel Lebedeff, who got his third consecutive start and kept up his great work between the posts. Lebedeff allowed only one goal on 33 Gopher shots and made some huge stops in crunch time with Minnesota pushing. Hopefully, he and junior Jack Berry can continue the great protection they’ve benefited this young Badger team with thus far, especially if they want to make a postseason push.
Wisconsin will continue their Big Ten season Nov. 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio for a matchup with another powerhouse in the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes.