MADISON, Wis. — Everyone gets knocked down. A mark of character, in sports and in life, is how quickly you bounce back from a knockdown.
After suffering their first loss of the season on Saturday, Jan. 9, the Minnesota Gophers bounced back quickly and thoroughly on Sunday, coming from behind to beat arch-rival Wisconsin 5-3 at LaBahn Arena.
Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin and Bryce Brodzinski each had a goal and an assist on Sunday as the Gophers (11-1-0 overall, 9-1-0-0-0-0 Big Ten) scored early and late, setting the tone and then closing out a win after the Badgers refused to go quietly. Jack LaFontaine bounced back from his first loss in goal as well, making 29 saves.
“I really liked our response tonight. We got pushed back last night. We got pushed down hard. I like Wisconsin. I think they’re a really, really good hockey team and I think they’re going to be in it at the end of the year,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “We needed to respond tonight and that’s what we did. It started with Sammy Walker and McLaughlin. We got those guys going tonight.”
On Saturday the Badgers had thwarted Minnesota’s best start to a season in 81 years. As a small measure of revenge, the Gophers needed just 81 seconds on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead when Walker scored on his team’s first shot. Like in the series opener, they had myriad chances to pad the lead but Robbie Beydoun, a graduate transfer who played his first three seasons at Michigan Tech, kept it close.
Instead, it was the Badgers getting the equalizer on a fortunate deflection. Sam Stange’s attempt to pass the puck across the top of the crease in front of LaFontaine was blocked by Gophers defenseman Matt Staudacher, only to see the puck deflect off Staudacher’s stick and slip over the goal line.
“(Staudacher) made a good play. It wasn’t really his fault, it was just a bad bounce,” Brodzinski said. “There’s nothing you can really do. He made the right play taking away the back door. It was just a fluke goal that no one can control.”
That play notwithstanding, LaFontaine got some good fortune of his own, as Wisconsin’s Jack Gorniak and Brock Caufiled had shots hit the pipe in the first and second periods, respectively. Caufield finally made one count to give the Badgers a 2-1 lead — marking the third consecutive game where the Gophers had trailed in the second period — but the visitors answered quickly.
The Walker-McLaughlin combo clicked for the second time on Sunday to tie the game, with Walker feeding McLaughlin from behind the goal line for a quick shot. After getting skunked in the Gophers’ first nine games, McLaughlin now has scored three times in the last three outings.
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“We’ve always been good together... we always have that chemistry, so it’s nice to be with him again,” Walker said of his long-time pairing with McLaughlin.
Then Minnesota re-established a lead on a pretty Brodzinski to Ryan Johnson to Jonny Sorenson passing play for a 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes. Ben Meyers provided a two-goal lead on a power play, but the Badgers weren’t done, as superstar Cole Caufield got them back within 4-3 by hitting a tiny gap between LaFontaine and the post. Motzko said you can only contain the younger Caufield brother’s talent for so long.
“We were doing a good job until the third period and then he amped it up. I thought for five periods we did a terrific job and then not only on the goal but he had three or four just great opportunities,” Motzko said. “That shows you what a big-time player he is. You can hold him down for a while but it’s almost impossible to shut him down for an entire weekend.”
The Gophers got bad news before the game even started, with center Scott Reedy out of the lineup due to an undisclosed injury. It was the first time in nearly a year that Reedy, who has 11 points, had missed a game. He was scratched for a two-game home series versus Ohio State in late December last season. Nathan Burke, who had been a healthy scratch on Saturday, returned to the Gophers lineup as a result.
Beydoun finished with 19 saves for the Badgers (6-6-0, 6-4-0-0-1-0) who will visit the Gophers in Minneapolis on Feb. 5-6.
View Jess Myers' postgame comments from LaBahn Arena here.
First period — 1. MIN, Sammy Walker 4 (Brock Faber, Blake McLaughlin), 1:21. 2. WIS, Sam Stange 5 (Roman Ahcan, Jesper Peltonen), 13:41. Penalties — Mason Nevers, MIN (slashing), 4:47; Tyler Cole Caufield, WIS (high sticking), 16:03; Sampo Ranta, MIN (hooking), 18:18.
Second period — 3. WIS, Brock Caufield 5 (Ahcan, Peltonen), 11:58. 4. MIN, McLaughlin 3 (Walker, Ryan Johnson), 14:00.. 5. MIN, Jonny Sorenson 4 (Johnson, Bryce Brodzinski), 17:02. Penalties — Mathieu De St. Phalle, WIS (tripping), 7:51; Faber, MIN (boarding), 18:16.
Third period — 6. MIN, Ben Meyers 5 (Jackson LaCombe, Brannon McManus), 2:35, (pp). 7. WIS, Cole Caufield 7 (Ty Pelton-Byce, Linus Weissbach), 4:12. 8. MIN, Brodzinski 4 (Jaxon Nelson), 17:43. Penalties — Mike Vorlicky, WIS (interference), 1:05.
Shots on goal — WIS 12-7-13—32; MIN 8-9-7—24. Goalies — Robbie Beydoun, WIS (24 shots-19 saves); Jack LaFontaine, MIN (32-29). Power plays — WIS 0-of-3, MIN 1-of-3. Referees — Barry Pochmara, Jonathon Sitarski. Linesmen — Samuel Shikowsky, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — NA.