Minnesota and Wisconsin Tied Atop B1G Standings
Minneapolis, MN – Don Lucia likes to talk about process, about doing the right things on the ice and trusting that results will follow.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, individual hockey games aren’t always that cut-and-dried.
Minnesota (20-9-2 Overall, 11-4-0 B1G) played a pretty good hockey game Friday night versus the Wisconsin Badgers (18-10-1, 11-4-0), but even the Comeback Kids could not claw back from another two-goal third period deficit, falling to Bucky 3-2 to drop into a tie for first place in the B1G Conference Standings with the Badgers.
The Gophers actually got on the board on the first shift of the game, when Vinni Lettieri banked the puck from behind the goal line and into the net. The 0:28 goal was Lettieri’s 16th of the season.
Minnesota racked up shot after shot and chance after chance, but after that early marker could not find a way to crack UW’s Jack Berry. As the Gophers kept shooting and Berry kept making saves, Wisconsin’s confidence grew.
The Badgers evened the game early in the second period by taking advantage of a bad Gopher change to spring a two-on-one rush. Gopher-killer Grant Besse actually passed the puck to Trent Frederic, whose wrist shot blew past Eric Schierhorn and into the net.
Minnesota went to the power play a few minutes later, but a costly turnover gave Wisconsin another odd-man rush, and this time Adam Cavallini fired a rebound into the net to give the Badgers their first lead.
Near the end of the period, Bucky got yet another goal from Ryan Wagner on the power play to up the lead to 3-1.
Of Wisconsin’s three second-period goals, two came on a special teams situation. “That was really the difference in the game, they beat us on specialty teams tonight,” mused Gopher coach Don Lucia.
All this time, the Gophers have been outchance-ing and outshooting the Badgers – through two periods the shots were 20-11 MN but the score was 3-1 WI. “It obviously gets a little frustrating,” said senior defenseman Jake Bischoff. “You feel like you’re doing everything right, but you just can’t score.”
Minnesota did find a way to score in the third, with Vinni Lettieri netting a one-timer at 11:52. Minnesota pressed hard in the final 10 minutes, and were rewarded with a late powerplay chance, but came up empty on the man-advantage. The Gophers pulled the goalie with 2:15 remaining, and though they got a lot of pucks to the front of the Wisconsin net, there would be no last-minute heroics in this game.
The 3-2 loss drops the Gophers to a tie for first place with Wisconsin in the B1G Conference. Minnesota has never lost the B1G Regular Season Title, and will look to stay in control by beating the Badgers Saturday night to jump back into first place alone. The rematch is at 7PM Saturday, with TV on FSN+, Streaming on Fox Sports Go / BTN2Go, and Radio on AM1500.
Final SOG totals were 38-18 in favor of Minnesota.
Mike Szmatula is nursing a lower-body injury that has him listed as day-to-day. Szmatula has now sat out two straight games, and Lucia confirmed that he will be out again tomorrow.
Minnesota remained in 4th place in the PairWise Rankings after the loss. The Gophers hold a slim RPI lead over Western Michigan for fourth place in the rankings.
Vinni Lettieri’s pair of goals moves him up to 17 on the year, good for second place on the team and just one behind team-leader Tyler Sheehy.