Madison, WI – It’s about as hackneyed a cliche as there is, but Don Lucia always talks about his best players needing to play their best as the season winds down.
For Tyler Sheehy, who’s been quiet nearly the entire season after an All-American sophomore campaign in 2016-2017, perhaps Friday night’s game against Wisconsin was a much needed wake-up call.
Sheehy scored two go-ahead goals in the third period, including the eventual game-winner with just under five minutes left in the final frame, to drag the Gophers (17-13-1 Overall, 8-10-1-1 B1G) across the finish line with a 4-2 win over the Wisconsin Badgers (14-14-4, 8-10-3-1) Friday night.
The game started much like a typical Gopher-Badger series of old. Minnesota had the better of the possession in the first, but Wisconsin capitalized on one of their few scoring chances midway through the period to take a 1-0 lead.
The script almost completely flipped in the second, when Gopher goalie Mat Robson turned aside all 23 Badger shots in the second (including 12 on Wisconsin’s three powerplay chances), and Minnesota got the lone goal of the period on a tipped snapshot from the point. Steve Johnson was credited with the goal, but the replays showed Brannon McManus deflecting the puck past Badger goalie Kyle Hayton to tie the game at just 1:56 of the frame.
The teams entered the third tied at 1-1, but Sheehy broke the tie early, slipping a rebound past Hayton at 0:39 to give the Gophers their first lead of the game at 2-1. Wisconsin was able to tie just 1:35 later, when Jason Ford took advantage of a poor defensive play by Tyler Nanne to steal the puck and feed Matt Ustaski to knot the game at two goals each.
The teams traded chances as the clock wound down in the third, but Tyler Sheehy again broke the tie, leaking out of the right-wing corner and firing a low-angle wrist shot off of a one-time pass from Tommy Novak past Hayton to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead with 4:48 remaining in the 3rd.
Darian Romanko tacked on an empty-netter at 18:23 to complete the scoring for the Gophers and for the game, which finished 4-2 for the good guys.
Quietly effective, goaltender Mat Robson appears to have taken over the reins in net for the Gophers. Robson has started each of the last four games for the Gophers, beating Michigan State 2-1 at Madison Square Garden before splitting against Notre Dame two weekends ago and beating Wisconsin Friday. Robson stopped 38 of 40 shots Friday night to pick up his fifth win as a Gopher. Expect to see junior Eric Schierhorn get back between the pipes eventually, but Don Lucia likes to ride the hot hand, and Robson has been solid in net for Minnesota.
The win pushes the Gophers up to 5th in the Big Ten conference standings with 26 points, behind Wisconsin (4th, 28 points) and Michigan (3rd, 29 points), but with two games in hand on each of them. Minnesota needs to at least get to 4th place to secure a first-round home playoff series in the Big Ten postseason tournament.
Minnesota appears to have held-pat for now at 9th place in the PairWise Rankings. According to Jim Dahl at CollegeHockeyRanked.com, the Gophers have a pretty solid chance to make the NCAA tournament if they win at least three of their remaining six games, and things start to look iffy if they win two or fewer.
The powerplay continues to be a killer for the Gopher offense – Minnesota is now 3 for its last 50 on the man-advantage after going 0-4 Friday against the Badgers, and are 55th out of 60 D1 college hockey teams at 12.6% for the season. For those playing along at home, that’s akin to the Gophers playing five full periods of 5-on-4 hockey and scoring only three goals. The penalty kill was a perfect 4-4 against Wisconsin Friday night, but no amount of PK success is enough when you’re clicking at 6% over your last 50 opportunities on the PP.
With one win down after Friday night, the Gophers will look to further improve their PWR and league table positioning while going for the road sweep Saturday. The rubber match is at a more normal 7PM time, and can be seen on FSN+, streamed on Fox Sports Go or BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.