Madison, WI – Just a few short weeks ago, Minnesota was 5-9-4 at the winter break and staring right down the barrel of another lost season.
Funny what change a couple weeks can make.
The second half surge continued another weekend, as the Gophers (12-10-4 Overall, 7-5-4-3 B1G) went into the Kohl Center and swept the Wisconsin Badgers (10-15-1, 5-12-1-1) behind another 10-goal offensive outburst. Minnesota has now won five straight and is 7-1-0 since Christmas, with wins over #30 PWR St. Cloud, #18 PWR Bemidji, #21 PWR Michigan State, #10 PWR Ohio State (x2), and #35 PWR Wisconsin (x2).
Friday’s game between the Gophers and Badgers started out tight before turning into a laugher in the third. Minnesota took a lead just 2:21 into the first on Jonny Sorenson’s sixth goal of the year, but Wisconsin scored the next two to take a lead at 6:32 of the second.
Bob Motzko pulled starter Jack LaFontaine at that point (a rather quick hook), but maybe that’s just what the team needed because it was all Gophers from there in front of Jared Moe. Three Gopher goals in less than five minutes at the end of the second turned the tide. Brannon McManus tied it up on a 2-on-1 rush, Sammy Walker scored what ended up being the game winning goal to snap out of a sophomore slump, and Bryce Brodzinski roofed a backhander to put an exclamation point on the period.
Brodzinski’s goal was a real turning point in the momentum of the game – Wisconsin had just been thwarted on a 2-on-1 rush by an apparent Ryan Zuhlsdorf trip that went uncalled. Brodzinski hauled the puck down the ice and backhanded a beauty top shelf. The play turned a could-have-been 3-3 game into a 4-2 contest, and Minnesota poured on two more goals in the third to round out the scoring at 6-2.
- Sorenson from Johnson and Nelson at 2:21 of the 1st
- McManus from Meyers and Brinkman at 12:05 of the 2nd
- Walker from McLaughlin and Reedy at 15:00 of the 2nd
- Brodzinski from Zuhlsdorf at 16:46 of the 2nd
- Brodzinski from Sorenson at 7:47 of the 3rd
- McManus from Meyers and Staudacher at 13:35 of the 3rd.
Saturday, Brodzinski scored his third goal of the weekend to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead at 10:07 of the first period. Wisconsin’s talented freshman Cole Caulfield tied the game at 14:32 of the first with an absolute rocket slapper on a 2-on-1. The teams played tight for the rest of the first and the second period, but the Gophers stuck their noses ahead on a seeing-eye deflection from the point off the stick of Robbie Stucker. The power play goal at 7:58 of the second gave Minnesota a lead it would not relinquish.
For the second night in a row, Sammy Walker scored what wound up being the game-winning goal, taking a beautiful cross-zone pass from Brannon McManus and firing a shot past UW goalie Jack Berry just 50 seconds into the third. Scott Reedy, who didn’t play last weekend against Ohio State, was back this weekend and scored late in the third to give the Gophers a comfortable 4-1 cushion. Wisconsin scored on a wrister from the point with less than four minutes left to give the Badgers some life, but Minnesota’s Jared Moe stoned Bucky the rest of the way to preserve the road sweep.
- Brodzinski from Ranta and Reedy at 10:07 of the 1st
- Stucker from Meyers and Walker at 7:58 of the 2nd
- Walker from McManus and Ranta at 0:50 of the 3rd
- Reedy from Perbix at 15:08 of the 3rd
Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend:
Honorable Mentions: Jared Moe (2 Wins, 2 GA, 41 Saves), Ben Meyers (3A), Sampo Ranta (2A), Jonny Sorenson (1G-1A), Scott Reedy (1G-2A)
3. Sammy Walker – the sophomore captain got off the schnide this weekend, scoring twice and adding an assist. The Gophers are better when Walker is clicking, so hopefully this is the end of his slump.
2. Brannon McManus – McManus was the NCAA’s 1st star last weekend with 2G-4A against Ohio State, and he kept it rolling with another two goals Friday and a perfect primary assist on Walker’s backbreaking goal Saturday. McManus is definitely benefitting from the stellar play of his linemates Sampo Ranta and Ben Meyers (unofficially the 5th and 6th stars of the weekend), but they form a deadly combination that can score in bunches.
1. Bryce Brodzinski – Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey from 2018-2019, Brodzinski is starting to come into his own of late. The freshman scored three critical goals this weekend, and has scored four goals in the last three games. Brodzinski is playing on the all-freshman third line with Jonny Sorenson and Jaxon Nelson, and their emergence gives Minnesota three lines that are a threat to score.
Minnesota hosts Michigan State next weekend, in what is shaping up to be a critical series in the race for the Big Ten Conference championship. Both the Gophers and the Spartans sit tied for third with 28 points, one back of Ohio State and Penn State, and tied with Notre Dame. However, both Minnesota and Michigan State have two games in hand on the rest of the league, so the Gophers and Spartans control their own destiny. A split would mean both teams are in good shape for home ice and contending for the league title down the stretch, and a sweep would put the winning team in full control of the conference with just a few games left to play.
Friday’s contest starts at 7PM, while Saturday is a 5PM puck drop. Both games can be seen on FSN+ and streamed on Fox Sports Go.