CHICAGO -- Playing in a must-win type of game outdoors at Soldier Field in Chicago, Wisconsin (13-10-7, 10-7-7 WCHA) earned a victory over Minnesota (20-6-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) that they needed in the worst way. The Badgers were able to rally behind three second period goals in front of 52,051 fans to edge one step closer to their goal of home ice in the WCHA playoffs.
Once again Joel Rumpel was spectacular between the pipes for Wisconsin, stopping 36 Gopher shots in the victory. 15 of those saves came in a scoreless first period, which Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves felt was critical in the end result.
"Joel (Rumpel) was given the game puck by the team," Eaves said after the game. "His performance in the first period allowed us to get our feet underneath us."
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia agreed that Rumpel was one of the biggest difference makers in the game.
"Their goaltender I thought played very well," Lucia said. "He made some really good saves, and some scrambles at key points."
The poor ice conditions seemed to work on behalf of Wisconsin, who favor a more disciplined approach to the game in comparison to the free-wheeling Gophers. The Badgers stuck to their plan of keeping the game simple, and it was effective on the choppy ice surface.
"Based on who we are, and what our strengths are as a hockey team and hockey players, for the most part we need to keep it simple, be really smart," Eaves noted. "That helps us be effective and gives us a chance to be successful."
After a scoreless opening period, Wisconsin took the first lead of the game 13:03 into the second. After a gutty-effort play by sophomore Brendan Woods to keep the puck in the zone, freshman defenseman Kevin Schulze threw a bouncing shot towards the goal that found a hole underneath Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox, and snuck across the goal line.
The goal was Schulze's third of the season, and came after a lengthy stretch of zone time by the Badgers in the Minnesota end. The tally from the White Bear Lake, Minn., native seemed to energize the Wisconsin crowd, and the Badgers would feed off the momentum, scoring again just over a minute later.
Once again it was a bouncing shot from the point that would beat Wilcox, this time off the stick of John Ramage. The Wisconsin captain threw a bouncing puck towards the Gopher net that would bounce off the shin pad of Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly and into the net.
UW's relentless attack would strike again two minutes later as Wisconsin's grind line was able to give the Badgers a 3-0 lead. A long-range shot from Jefferson Dahl created a big rebound, and the Minnesota defense let Sean Little slide in all alone to swoop up the rebound and beat Wilcox at the 16:22 mark of the second period.
The old cliche of throwing everything but the kitchen sink seemed to be Wisconsin's offensive game plan according to Ramage.
"In the second period we threw literally everything we had at them, shots from the corner, shots from anywhere on the ice," Ramage said. "We happened to get a few good bounces, and things went in, so that was our plan."
As expected the Gophers would come out flying in the third period down by three goals. Their efforts would pay off just 2:36 into the period, as sophomore Seth Ambroz was able to jam the puck between the post and the leg pad of Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel.
After switching ends at the half-way point of the third period due to ice conditions, Wisconsin really buckled down and played air-tight hockey down the stretch. Comparing it to a playoff game, Eaves was pleased with the way his team handled the situation.
"It was really fun to be on the bench watching these guys on the bench in the last ten minutes," Eaves said.
Minnesota would eventually cut Wisconsin's lead to one after pulling its goaltender on a goal by Zach Budish with 1:42 to play, but the Badgers would shut the door in the final moments, earning a much needed victory over No. 2 Minnesota.
Lucia didn't think his team played bad considering the situation, but gave credit to the Badgers for their ability to bounce back after Friday's loss.
"I thought their resolve was a little bit better than ours."
The win puts the Badgers at 27th in the Pairwise ranking, which is used to mimic the NCAA selection process. Wisconsin still has a lot of work to do to put themselves in a position for an at-large birth, but captain John Ramage noted that this is big for the Badgers in the grand scheme of things.
"This weekend was huge for us," Ramage said. "Friday night we didn't get the outcome that we wanted, but we battled back today in this atmosphere, I think it's going to be huge for us going forward."
Wisconsin will be back in action next weekend as they host non-conference Penn State for a rare Sunday-Monday two game series at the Kohl Center.
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