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Defense reigns supreme in weekend series between Wisconsin and Minnesota

The Badgers hosted the highly-anticipated Border Battle series over the weekend.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Disclaimer: This article has been written and submitted by Taylor Valentine, who will help cover Badgers hockey.

The Wisconsin Badgers hosted the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a highly anticipated Border Battle between top-10 teams over the weekend. The rivalry drew a sold-out crowd of 15,359 on Saturday night, making it the highest-attended college hockey game in the 2023-24 season. Fans were treated to a show on both nights. What the games lacked in scoring they made up for in exciting moments and stellar defensive play.

Friday night’s matchup saw Wisconsin (20-6-2 overall, 11-4-1 B1G) fall in overtime. Oliver Moore put Minnesota (16-7-5 overall, 9-5-4 B1G) on the board just 7:28 into the game. The Badgers turned it on in the second period, controlling the puck in the offensive zone and creating plenty of scoring opportunities while outshooting the Gophers 21-5. Minnesota goaltender Justen Close held firm between the pipes, surviving the second-period onslaught and making 39 saves on the night.

Wisconsin graduate student Owen Lindmark evened the score shortly into the third frame after taking a centering feed from sophomore Simon Tassy and collecting his own rebound to beat Close with a backhand. The Badgers continued to create scoring opportunities, but the score remained even until sophomore Brody Lamb buried the game-winner for Minnesota just over a minute into the three-on-three overtime.

A similar script played out Saturday night, only with the participants switched. Wisconsin took an early lead when sophomore Jack Horbach found the back of the net off a feed from Lindmark, who corralled the puck after a nice play by sophomore Jack Dexheimer to hold the offensive zone.

Minnesota largely controlled the game both before and after the Badger goal, eventually tying the game on a goal from Jaxon Nelson late in the second. Senior goaltender Kyle McClellan gave the sellout crowd something to cheer for all night, stymieing Minnesota at every turn and making 41 saves to give the Badgers a shot in overtime.

Minnesota outshot Wisconsin 3-0 in the extra frame but could not secure the extra point in overtime as the teams moved to a shootout. Freshmen Quinn Finley and William Whitelaw each beat Close to the top shelf for shootout goals while McClellan continued his stellar play, stopping both attempts he faced and sending the crease creatures home happy with a shootout win.

First-year Wisconsin Head Coach Mike Hastings felt the impact of the home crowd throughout the weekend. While neither team lit up the scoreboard, the series never lacked excitement.

“We are in the entertainment business, and I know there were multiple times tonight fans were probably sitting at the edge of their seats thinking it would go the other direction but they hung with us,” Hastings remarked about the sellout crowd. “This place, because the fans are here, is special. It’s a beautiful building with an awful lot of seats but it’s a different place when it’s full. For anyone to think they didn’t have an impact on these games is crazy.”

Hastings continued, “They make it a special place, and I’m glad they can walk out with a smile on their faces because we appreciate them being here.”

What’s next?

Despite the loss Friday, Wisconsin maintained its fourth-place ranking in the USCHO polls and remains five points behind Michigan State in the B1G with two games in hand. Next up for the Badgers is a two-game set with Notre Dame (14-12-2 overall, 8-8-2 B1G) at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin won both games when the teams first met in South Bend earlier this season.