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'Senseless plays' sink Gophers at Wisconsin, Big Ten title celebration stays on hold for another week

A pair of second period goals by the Badgers, and a controversial disallowed Minnesota goal, helped Wisconsin snap a six-game losing streak and keep the conference title up for grabs, for now.

Minnesota forward Jaxon Nelson (24) skates while Wisconsin defenseman Ben Dexheimer (20) chases during a game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Minnesota Gophers on February 11, 2023 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
Larry Radloff / The Rink Live

MADISON, Wis. — No matter the on-ice result on Saturday, the Minnesota Gophers made no plans to celebrate a Big Ten title. Even needing just one win to clinch, the trophy was not at the Kohl Center, and there were no celebratory hats or t-shirts waiting in the visitors' locker room.

And in the end, none of that mattered, as a pair of second period goals by Wisconsin and a crucial disallowed goal call that went the Badgers’ way lifted the home team to a 3-1 win.

In snapping a six-game losing streak, the Badgers also delayed Minnesota securing the conference title by, at minimum, a week. Michigan beat Michigan State 4-3 in overtime and Minnesota could clinch with a win in any of its four remaining games.

Wisconsin, which is guaranteed to finish in the Big Ten cellar, got goals from Daniel Laatsch and Carson Bantle to break a second period tie, and Kyle McClellan won his second game of the season with 32 saves as the Badgers improved to 11-19-0 overall and 4-16-0 in the conference.

"To beat a team like that, you're going to need to do special things, especially away from the puck, and I thought tonight we did enough of them to deserve the win," Badgers coach Tony Granato said. "Minnesota is an outstanding team. We've played them four times now and in all four games there have been different times when, man, we can skate with these guys."


Minnesota (21-8-1, 15-4-1) lost a Big Ten game in regulation for the first time since November despite a Mike Koster goal and 26 saves from Justen Close.

"Wisconsin deserved to win. We've got a target on us, they played with desperation, they out-worked us in stretches of the game," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We were just conveniently off tonight at times."

Motzko noted that his team had eight first period shots that missed the net, and too many "senseless plays."

The Gophers were outshot in the opening period, but took the game’s first lead late in the frame when Koster’s rising shot from the blue line fooled McClellan over the right shoulder. It was the third goal of the season for Koster, and his second in the past four games.

"We've got good players that find me in the slot, but it's not about that," Koster said, stressing the need to learn from only the second time this season they have been held to one goal or less. "We kind of came out flat both games this weekend, so I think there's a bigger problem we need to solve. The good thing is we get to come back Monday and figure it out."

The lead didn’t last long, as Cruz Lucius slipped a puck past Close in the final seconds of the period for a 1-1 tie. Then things got crazy. In the second period, Wisconsin’s Zach Urdahl swatted a puck off the goal line that would’ve given Minnesota another lead. Then Close pulled a puck off the goal line, only to have Wisconsin score later in the same shift, giving the Badgers their first lead of the weekend.

Connor Kurth appeared to tie the game for the Gophers, but Wisconsin challenged the play for too many men on the ice. Replays appeared to show five Minnesota skaters on the ice, and one making his way over the boards and off the rink, but the goal was disallowed, causing some harsh words for the officials from Motzko.

"They must've had a different view than we had," Motzko said. "That's not the reason we lost, (but) it sure would've helped."


Brody Lamb clanked a deflected shot off the crossbar on the next shift, and the Gophers appeared poised to tie the game anyway. Instead it was Bantle ripping a puck past Close to double the Wisconsin lead heading into the third period.

Minnesota dominated the third but could not get another puck past McClellan.

"We haven't had him play back-to-back games this year or given him a chance to get into any sort of rhythm, so with what he did last night he looked relaxed," Granato said of McClellan, who came on in relief of starter Jared Moe in Friday's 4-1 loss to Minnesota.

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Extra Pucks

Healthy scratches for the Gophers included forwards Colin Schmidt and Garrett Pinoniemi and defensemen Carl Fish and Matt Staudacher.

Jimmy Snuggerud’s first period assist gives him 40 points for the season. He is the first Gophers rookie to reach 40 points since Kyle Rau did it in the 2011-12 campaign.

The Gophers stay on the road next weekend, with a pair of Big Ten games at Penn State on February 17-18. They split a series with the Nittany Lions in Minneapolis in November.

Wisconsin honored members of the Badgers’ 1973 NCAA title team between the second and third periods. It was the first of six national titles won by the Badgers men.


"That was obviously a point where Badger athletics needed a team to rally around, and our community needed a team to rally around," Granato said. "When you look back 50 years ago, hockey was the sport on campus and those were the guys that set the tone and the standard for what our team has done for the next 50 years."

Wisconsin 3, Minnesota 1

Minnesota 1-0-0—1

Wisconsin 1-2-0—3

First period — 1. MN, Mike Koster (Jimmy Snuggerud, Logan Cooley), 18:28. 2. WI, Cruz Lucius 10 (Mathieu De St. Phalle), 19:38. Penalties — Liam Malmquist, WI (slashing), 9:18.

Second period — 3. WI, Daniel Laatsch 1 (Jack Horbach, Carson Bantle), 10:17. 4. WI, Bantle 7 (Horbach, Corson Ceulemans), 14:09. Penalties — Snuggerud, MN (tripping), 2:26; Horbach, WI (interference), 2:26; Owen Lindmark, WI (slashing), 14:18; Matthew Knies, MN (tripping), 16:03.

Third period — No scoring. Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — MN 7-12-14—33; WI 10-14-5—29. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (29 shots-26 saves); Kyle McClellan, WI (33-32). Power plays — MN 0-of-2, WI 0-of-1. Referees — Colin Kronforst, Brian Hankes. Linesmen — Samuel Shikowsky, Nicholas Bradshaw. Att. — 11,075.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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