SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Hockey logic says that if you are going to be playing your third game in three days, and your energy may wane eventually, you need to build a big lead, then hang on for the final 20 minutes.
It’s that kind of logic that wins trophies, like the big silver cup the Minnesota Gophers will be bringing home from Indiana after winning the Big Ten tournament on Tuesday.
The Gophers built a four-goal lead on arch-rival Wisconsin, then bent but didn’t break in a frantic third period, beating the Badgers 6-4 to claim the conference’s playoff crown.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys. I'm telling you, three games in three nights, they don't do that in the National Hockey League and you rarely do it in college hockey," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We couldn't have played any better the entire weekend. We ran out of a little gas in the third and there were a couple mental mistakes, but overall I think we came in here and earned that championship."
Blake McLaughlin scored early to give his team a lead and late, into an empty net, to squelch the Badgers’ attempt at a comeback. Minnesota built a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes by scoring three times in a 2:42 span and chasing Wisconsin starter Cameron Rowe from the net.
At the other end of the rink, Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine faced 50 shots, stopping 46 of them to claim the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
"We kept on responding. We really didn't get phased by anything. We kept our heads down and got the result we wanted," said LaFontaine, who had been named the Big Ten's top goalie earlier in the day.
With a 23-6-0 record, the Gophers are likely to be a top seed when the NCAA’s 16-team field is announced on Sunday.
Roman Ahcan scored twice for the Badgers (20-9-1) who pulled within 5-4 on a Cole Caufield goal with 2:11 to play. It was a rare spark for Caufield in the game, after Minnesota did a mostly effective job of keeping him to the outside and forcing wide angle shots.
“We shut him down for about 50 minutes and then he’s going to find his way,” Motzko said of Caufield, who leads college hockey with 28 goals. “He is one of the more phenomenal shooters that I’ve seen in a long time. He has 28 goals now and I’ll bet he has 50 pipes. If it’s not in, it’s banging off the bar.”
McLaughlin, who had gone three games without a goal in Notre Dame’s rink -- a lengthy drought by the standards he had established, scoring in every game he played here as a freshman and sophomore -- got it started in a first period where the Gophers played fast, aggressive hockey. His goal came seven seconds after a Wisconsin penalty had expired, so it was not technically on a power play, but was scored in that transition time when a team is still getting back to full strength.
- Talking hockey with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren
- Badgers follow familiar script in B1G tourney semis, and let Cole Caufield lead the way to the title game
- Rinkytown blog: Gophers’ Motzko, LaFontaine and Faber named B1G award finalists
After Mike Koster scored to make it 2-0, the Badgers answered with an Ahcan goal. But Minnesota finished the middle period on a frantic pace, with those three goals in less than three minutes that forced Wisconsin into a desperate place.
As expected, the Badgers made a third period charge, throwing 21 shots at LaFontaine. He stopped just enough to hang a banner and await their NCAA tournament fate.
“Tonight's game, we just didn't have it going,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said, recalling his team’s 8-1 win in Minneapolis in February. “Minnesota, we kicked their butts a month ago. They wanted payback and they took advantage when we weren't real sharp.”
Joining LaFontaine on the all-tournament team were Gophers forwards Sampo Ranta and Sammy Walker, Gophers defenseman Koster, Badgers forward Caufield and Badgers defenseman Ty Emberson.
View Jess Myers' postgame recap here.
Minnesota 6, Wisconsin 4
First period — 1. MIN, Blake McLaughlin 11 (Scott Reedy, Jackson LaCombe), 10:32. Penalties — Sampo Ranta, MIN (boarding), 7:04; Cole Caufield, WIS (high sticking), 8:25.
Second period — 2. MIN, Mike Koster 3 (McLaughlin, Sammy Walker), 1:47. 3. WIS, Roman Ahcan 8 (Ty Emberson), 12:54. 4. MIN, Brannon McManus 9 (Ranta, Jaxon Nelson), 15:24. 5. MIN, Scott Reedy 10 (Walker, McLaughlin), 16:49. 6. MIN, Nelson 5 (McManus, LaCombe), 18:06. Penalties — None.
Third period — 7. WIS, Mike Vorlicky 2 (Owen Lindmark, Josh Ess), 4:08. 8. WIS, Ahcan 9 (Linus Weissbach, Ty Pelton-Byce), 5:34 (Jaxon Nelson, Ryan Johnson), 15:34. 9. WIS, Caufield 28 (Lindmark), 17:49. 10. MIN, McLaughlin 12 (Ben Meyers), 19:36, (en). Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — WIS 13-16-21—50; MIN 11-14-9—34. Goalies — Cameron Rowe, WIS (24 shots-19 saves); Robbie Beydoun, WIS (10-9); Jack LaFontaine, MIN (50-46). Power plays — WIS 0-of-1, MIN 0-of-1. Referees — Brian Aaron, Colin Fronforst. Linesmen — Sam Shikowsky, Nick Bradshaw. Att. — NA.