Minneapolis – Coming off a road sweep at the hands of the lowly Michigan State Spartans, the Gophers needed a good result to get right heading into the end of the year.
Friday’s game should help.
The Gophers (10-10-4 Overall, 7-5-3 B1G) scored early and late, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first and netting the game’s final four goals in the third period after Wisconsin (8-11-4, 4-5-4) had closed within one in the final frame, resulting in a lopsided 9-4 result for Minnesota.
The Gophers got on the board at 7:20 of the first when Jack Sadek took a nice pass from Sammy Walker and roofed a writer to beat Badger goalie Jack Berry.
Tyler Sheehy scored short handed at 10:21 of the first to put Minnesota up 2-0, and Rem Pitlick’s one-time powerplay blast from the right circle at 16:49 put the Gophers up with a commanding 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Wisconsin started slowly clawing back in the second, putting pressure and shots on the Minnesota net and finally breaking through at 14:04 of the middle frame. Though no more goals were scored in the second, the score was just 3-1 at the start of the third, and with the shots sitting at 27-13 in favor of the Badgers it was clear that the momentum was starting to tilt toward the Wisconsin end.
The Badgers scored early in the third to pile on the pressure, as UW’s Jack Gorniak scored at just 4:01 to pull Wisconsin within one at 3-2.
The Gophers showed great fight of their own, swarming the Badger net and scoring two quick goals to extend the lead to 5-2. First, Ryan Norman picked up a loose puck in the crease and poked it home at 5:56, and then Brannon McManus’s shot-pass kicked off a Badger skate and fluttered into the net at 8:50 to put the Gophers back up by three.
Credit the Badgers for not giving up at that point. They scored two quick goals of their own to get right back in it at 5-4. Brock Caufield’s marker at 10:43 and Seamus Malone’s tally at 12:28 intensified the game for the final few minutes.
Minnesota struck back once again. Tommy Novak scored on a powerplay wrister at 15:02, Sammy Walker poked a puck in at 16:02 and was high-stacked in the process, resulting in another Gopher powerplay. Brent Gates made quick work of it, roofing a wrister at 16:16 to put Minnesota up 8-4. Walker added another goal at 18:50 to put the Gophers up 9-4 and finish off the scoring.
Although the final score was lopsided, the final shots on goal were equally lopsided in the other direction. Wisconsin outshot the Gophers 46-28, which means that even though the team scored nine goals in front of him, Mat Robson’s performance was important to the victory.
The win keeps the Gophers in second place in the Big Ten standings at 24 total points, five behind first-place Ohio State and one ahead of third place Notre Dame. The team still sits 22nd in the PairWise Rankings, and will need a very strong finish to move up far enough to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. At this point, it’s looking like winning the Big Ten postseason tournament is likely the team’s best shot to get into the big dance.
The two teams play again Saturday night, with some extra special attention to the game – the Gophers will honor the 40-year anniversary of the 1979 National Championship, and have been advertising “throwback concessions” for the occasion. Tickets appear to be sold out, although standing-room seats are still available.
Saturday’s puck drop is at 7PM, with the game on Fox Sports North, streamed on Fox Sports Go, and on the radio in the Twin Cities on AM1130.