Photo: Nicole Haase
Gophers Top Wisconsin 2-1 Saturday Night
MINNEAPOLIS, Mn. - In the grand scheme of things, the Wisconsin men's hockey team was playing for very little in terms of standings or rankings this weekend.
The Badgers knew they were going to be playing on the road in the first round of the playoffs, and they know they are unlikely to earn an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
However, that doesn't mean that the team didn't get anything out of series against WCHA regular season champion, and top rival Minnesota.
"Great environment for our kids to play in. Big, big time environment. The more of these environments we play in, the better we become," Badger head coach Mike Eaves said after the game.
Eaves club took a 1-0 lead into the third period against the Gophers on Saturday, and were just 20 minutes from sweeping the Gophers.
Late goals by Minnesota's Erik Haula and Nate Schmidt proved costly for the Badgers as Minnesota was able to stave off a late fury of shots from Wisconsin to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
After the Badgers routed the Gophers on Friday night 4-1 in a game that some Minnesota fans classified as embarrassing, you knew that the Gophers would come back on Saturday with renewed energy.
"We knew they were going to push back," Eaves said. "It was highly contested. It was a big time game. An environment you would expect for a championship game. They are fighting for a championship, we are fighting for our hockey lives."
With the win, the Gophers clinched the WCHA regular season title, and the MacNaughton Cup.
After a scoreless first period, the Badgers were first on the board in the second when Gopher killer Tyler Barnes notched his second goal of the weekend.
With Wisconsin on the power play, Barnes found a loose puck on the edge of the crease and swiftly deposited it past Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson. Michael Mersch and Mark Zengerle assisted on the man advantage tally.
The goal was the third that the twin cities native Barnes has scored in four career games at Mariucci Arena.
With the Badgers up a goal in the third period, Minnesota was doing everything it could to get back into the hockey game, including stirring things up after the whistle.
Minnesota Sophomore Nick Bjugstad found himself at the center of a scrum around the Badger net after running into Badger goaltender Joel Rumpel. When the dust finally settled, multiple players were without helmets, and six players found themselves in the penalty box.
The scrum seemed to rally the Gophers, despite the Badgers gaining a power play during the ruckus.
Down a man, Gopher sophomore Erik Haula picked the pocket of Mark Zengerle and found himself in a 2-on-1 situation going towards the Badger net.
The Wisconsin defenseman immediately took the pass option away, allowing Haula time and space alone with the goaltender where he was able to tuck one past Badger freshman net-minder Joel Rumpel to tie the game at one.
The play was kind of a microcosm of the season for the young Badgers squad. Eaves thought that his young defenseman gave Haula a little too much room on the play.
"We didn't play that very well. Our young defenseman gave him too much space and never had stick support in the middle and let him come across. It's a learning curve. It's a 2 on 1, it's a good scoring opportunity but we made it a little too easy for them by the way we played it," Eaves said after the game.
With all the momentum, the Gophers would strike again just three minutes later. A bad bounce behind the net caused the puck to pop out in front of the Badger net. Wisconsin tried to clear the puck but Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt made a fantastic play to keep the puck in the zone.
After walking around a Wisconsin challenger, Schmidt rifled a shot at the Badger cage that found it's way into the back of the net giving Minnesota the 2-1 lead.
Mariucci erupted after the goal, with the fans understanding that they were just over 12 minutes away from securing the cup.
Wisconsin didn't quit after the Schmidt goal, and had many opportunities themselves to tie the game late. Eaves pulled Rumpel for an extra attacker with a minute to go, and Wisconsin had multiple opportunities during the last 60 seconds.
Their late fury wasn't enough however, as Minnesota senior goaltender Kent Patterson stood his ground in preserving the 2-1 win for the Gophers.
Wisconsin junior Justin Schultz liked the way his club battled at the end despite the results.
"Playing in a hostile environment like this, they scored those goals and their crowd was pretty into it. I thought we didn't give up at all; we had some good chances on the 6x5 that we could have scored on. We're not too disappointed; we're just going to learn from this," Schultz noted.
The Badgers got solid performances out of their freshman net-minder this weekend. Rumpel stopped 33 of 35 shots on Saturday night, one night after stopping 26 of 27 against one of the best offensive clubs in the country.
Eaves sounded confident in his young goaltender after the weekend.
''They got half of their shots in the first period. And, the first period is zero-zero. Good stuff, that's what we want. He played well all weekend."
No team likes to lose games, but there were many positives to take from this weekends series. It's also a new season come Monday morning when the team gets back to work preparing for Denver.
"It's a tough loss to take right now, but I'm sure come Monday we're going to be worried about whom we're playing in playoffs, and getting ready for them," Schultz said.
The Badgers played very well over the weekend earning the split against another top ranked opponent. That's going to be huge when Wisconsin travels next weekend for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
"This is the way we need to play. It's going to be an environment like this no matter where we go. It's going to be contested; every race for the puck is going to be like someone is trying to steal your bread. So, this kind of weekend sets it up for us," Eaves said.
||1st Period (20:00)||
|WIS-1 Mark Zengerle (2-Roughing) MIN 0x1||11:41|
|WIS-2 Joseph LaBate (2-Holding) MIN 0x2||16:38|
||2nd Period (20:00)||
|MIN-1 Taylor Matson (2-Tripping) WIS 0x1||6:27|
|MIN-2 Jake Hansen (2-Interference) WIS 1x2||9:11|
|WIS||1||-||0||6x5 PP||Tyler Barnes (10) (Michael Mersch, Mark Zengerle)||10:26|
|WIS: 7,25,9,6,19,G33 MIN: 27,7,10,6,G35|
|WIS-3 Frankie Simonelli (2-Holding) MIN 0x3||11:38|
|MIN-3 Kyle Rau (2-Interference) WIS 1x3||16:06|
||3rd Period (20:00)||
|WIS-4 Jake McCabe (2-Roughing)||3:33|
|WIS-5 John Ramage (2-Roughing)||3:33|
|WIS-6 Tyler Barnes (2-Roughing)||3:33|
|MIN-4 Nick Bjugstad (2-Goaltender Interference)||3:33|
|MIN-5 Nick Bjugstad (2-Roughing) (Served by Joe Miller)||3:33|
|MIN-6 Zach Budish (2-Roughing)||3:33|
|MIN-7 Mark Alt (2-Roughing) WIS 1x4||3:33|
|MIN||1||-||1||5x6 SH||Erik Haula (15) (Jake Hansen)||4:47|
|MIN (+): 19,4,12,21,G35 WIS (-): 9,6,7,16,25,G33|
|WIS-7 John Ramage (2-Interference) MIN 1x4||7:06|
|MIN||2||-||1||6x5 PP||GW LL||Nate Schmidt (3) (unassisted)||7:40|
|MIN: 29,21,13,7,19,G35 WIS: 12,19,18,6,G33|
|Timeout - Wisconsin||7:40|
|MIN-8 Joe Miller (2-Boarding) WIS 1x5||10:03|
|WIS-8 Eric Springer (2-Unsportsmanlike Conduct)||12:51|
|MIN-9 Jake Hansen (2-Unsportsmanlike Conduct)||12:51|
||End of Game||
|Joel Rumpel (L, 11-10-2)||15||8||8||31||58:41||2|
|Kent Patterson (W, 24-12-1)||0||5||5||10||43:22||1|
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