For the second straight night, Minnesota (11-2-1, 2-0-0-0 Big Ten) received a pair of goals from Seth Ambroz en route to a Big Ten victory over Wisconsin (4-5-1, 0-2-0-0 Big Ten).
The game winner came in back-breaking fashion for the Badgers, as Ambroz was able to pull the Gophers ahead for good with just 26 seconds to play in the third period.
Wisconsin senior Michael Mersch -- who looked like a hero only 10 minutes earlier when his goal tied the game at three -- forced a pass to the middle that Minnesota's Travis Boyd picked off and fired to the net. That's where Ambroz was stationed and was able to tip the puck past UW netminder Joel Rumpel for the game-winner.
Mersch was devastated after the game, but stood up to the media and put the loss on his own shoulders.
"I let my team down tonight." Mersch said. "Coach trusts me to put me out there. It's a tough feeling right now, but I'm lucky to have good teammates to give me a pat on the back and help me through a tough time.
"I should have just chipped it out of the zone and made a simple play. It's a tough feeling right now."
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted after the game that the team isn't putting this on Mersch's shoulders.
"The young man that's in (the locker room) feels really bad right now." Eaves said. "So, lesson learned for everybody, and we'll move on."
The Badgers jumped out to the early lead for the second straight night when Mersch was able to find a streaking Frankie Simonelli, who whistled a shot past Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox from the high slot for a 1-0 lead.
Mark Zengerle also assisted on the goal, which was the 100th helper of his Wisconsin career. With the assist, Zengerle became the 14th Badgers' skater to reach the milestone.
As expected, the Gophers bounced right back, netting a tally of their own less than a minute later. With the puck in the corner, Minnesota's Sam Warning was able to find a wide-open Kyle Rau in the slot, and Rau trickled a shot past UW goaltender Joel Rumpel that was able to creep across the goal line by just a few inches.
Wisconsin dominated the late stages of the first period, and it paid off in Nic Kerdiles' fifth goal of the season. UW defenseman Joe Faust stepped up and picked off an errant Minnesota pass and centered a pass to Morgan Zulinick cutting down the middle. In one swift motion, the redshirt freshman one-touched a pass to Kerdiles, who banged it home for the 2-1 lead.
Despite the Badgers controlling much of the action in the second period, the Gophers were able to tally the only goal on Seth Amrborz's third of the weekend.
After Zulinick wasn't able to handle a Jake McCabe breakout pass, Tom Serratore found Ambroz breaking towards the net and Ambroz did the rest, banging home his own rebound to even the score at 2-2.
The Gophers were able to take a 3-2 lead 3:44 into the third period off an offensive zone faceoff. Rau won the draw clean against Kerdiles, and Skjei's seeing-eye shot found its way to the twine.
Mersch drew things even at 3-3 mid-way through the third when he tipped a Kerdiles pass past Wilcox with two defenders draped on his back.
Despite the turnover at the end of the game, Mersch was one of Wisconsin's top performers on Saturday with a goal and an assist.
"I think being a senior on this team, guys look up to me to make plays." Mersch said. "I didn't execute at the end of the game today, so it's pretty frustrating."
Ambroz's goal with 26 seconds to play was his fourth of the weekend and sixth in his last four games against the Badgers.
The Gophers have been heralded as a talented young team, but it was the junior Ambroz carrying the load this weekend for the nation's top-ranked team.
"Whether it's veterans or young guys, they all have to contribute in their own way," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said after the game. "For our young guys, it was a growing experience. For our older guys, you see a guy like Seth Ambroz take charge -- it was good to see."
The loss puts the Badgers at 4-5-1 on the young season and 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference they were widely projected to win.
"I think we played a very tough team very well," Eaves said. "When you work this hard and get this close and don't win it hurts."
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