Road Split Means Gophers Keep Pace in Big Ten Standings
Madison, WI – All good things must come to an end.
Not since Cornell in 1970 has an NCAA Men’s hockey team gone undefeated. Minnesota’s bid for a perfect season ended in their 11th game, as the Gophers fell to the Wisconsin Badgers 3-1 Saturday night for their first loss of the season. The visitors bounced back on Sunday, coming from behind to win 5-3 and earn a road split.
The teams each received 3 points on the weekend, meaning the Gophers (27) maintain an 8-point lead over second-place Wisconsin (19) in the Big Ten standings.
Chalk up the Gophers’ first loss of the season to a stellar goaltending performance by UW’s Robbie Beydoun. The senior netminder stopped 35 of 36 shots, including 16 of Minnesota’s 17 third-period attempts, on the way to the 3-1 win. The Gophers poured the pressure on Beydoun with quality chance after quality chance, but the Badger keeper stood on his head throughout.
Wisconsin built a 2-0 lead by the early minutes of the third period before Minnesota could answer back, with Sampo Ranta scoring on the powerplay to extend his prodigious point streak. Ranta was held off the scoresheet Sunday for the first time since Thanksgiving, registering a whopping 7G-2A-9P during the seven-game jaunt. The Finn registered a point in nine of Minnesota’s 12 games to date.
The Gophers drew a late penalty on Saturday down 2-1 with a chance to tie. Coach Bob Motzko pulled goalie Jack LaFontaine to gain a 6-on-4 advantage needing a goal to tie the game, but Mike Koster flubbed a pass inside the offensive blue line and Wisconsin was able to score on the empty net to seal the victory.
According to Coach Motzko, the team needed to respond on Sunday. A lot has been made of the “How will Minnesota do once they face adversity?” question as the winning streak rolled along, and Sunday was a good answer to that question.
The Gophers hadn’t trailed all season going into last week’s series with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils held leads in both contests before Minnesota came back to win both nights. Similarly on Sunday, Wisconsin held a 2-1 lead midway through the 2nd period before the Gophers stormed back to win the game.
Five different Gophers scored Sunday in the 5-3 win. Minnesota jumped out to the early lead on Sammy Walker’s fourth of the season just 1:21 in. Wisconsin scored two straight to take a 2-1 lead before late 2nd period goals by Blake McLaughlin (3) and Jonny Sorenson (4) put the Gophers up 3-2 going into the 3rd. Ben Meyers netted his fifth of the year 2:35 into the 3rd to give Minnesota their first two-goal lead of the weekend, but Cole Caulfield answered right back less than two minutes later to halve the lead at 4-3.
The Caulfield goal was the first time all year that an opponent put 3 goals past Gopher goalie Jack LaFontaine. Minnesota has given up 3+ goals in each of their last 3 games, but hadn’t done so all season prior.
The teams fought to a tense finish, but Bryce Brodzinski sniped a wrister into the upper corner with just over 2 minutes left in the game to close out the scoring in the 5-3 victory.
Up next for Minnesota is a home tilt with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Gophers ended Notre Dame’s season last year in the Big Ten playoffs, before their own season was ended by COVID before they were able to play in the Big Ten Semifinals.
Friday’s game is a 7PM start, while Saturday the teams drop the puck at 5PM. Both games can be streamed on Fox Sports Go and heard on AM1130. Friday’s TV coverage is on FSN Plus, and Saturday the Gophers are on FSN.
The Saturday loss to Wisconsin was the first time all season that the Gophers played on a Saturday. Minnesota has two wins on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays this season, one win on a Wednesday, and is yet to win on Saturday. They’ll get another crack at that Saturday win this weekend against Notre Dame.
Scott Reedy did not play Sunday against Wisconsin, with what coaches describe as an “upper-body injury”. It is unclear whether the senior center will be available for the Notre Dame series.
Ben Meyers now leads the Gophers in scoring, with 12 points (5G-7A) in 12 games. Meyers has been nothing short of outstanding in his sophomore campaign.
Junior Sampo Ranta leads the team in goal-scoring with 8 goals on the season.
Jack LaFontaine dropped his first decision of the season Saturday, but came back Sunday to earn his 10th win. The senior goalie maintains a 1.28 GAA (4th) and 0.955% Sv % (3rd).