Unclean sweep as Gophers power play clicks in come-from-behind win over Badgers
Wisconsin scored a few early and a few late, but the Minnesota Gophers scored a half-dozen in the middle, using an extended power play to turn the tide and finish with a win before the holiday break.
MINNEAPOLIS — They won’t be back in their home rink for a few weeks, with the holiday break upon us, so the Minnesota Gophers made sure to sweep up and shut off the lights before they left on Saturday.
Trailing by a pair of goals early, the Gophers used an extended power play to score six times in less than six minutes, cruising to a 6-4 win over Wisconsin.
Six different Gophers scored goals as they won their eighth game in the past nine outings, and will head into the holiday break as the nation’s top team in the computer rankings used to determine the NCAA tournament field.
Justen Close had 16 saves as Minnesota improved to 15-5-0 overall and 10-2-0 in the Big Ten at the unofficial halfway point of the 2022-23 season.
“There was a lot in that one. Wisconsin, as we all could predict, being in this for so long, came out with thunder at the start,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “We were waiting around to get going, and it took a break for it to happen. And then when we woke up, we got going. And then it turned out to be a pretty good hockey game.”
For Wisconsin (7-11-0, 1-9-0), an early lead disappeared in a flash after they took a major penalty and the Gophers took advantage. The Badgers scored twice in the first period and twice more in the third to make it close, but fell for their eighth time in their last nine meetings with Minnesota. Starting goalie Kyle McClellan had seven saves on 13 shots and was lifted early in the second period, after Minnesota’s fifth goal.
“We got rattled for sure. They took advantage of an opportunity that was given to them and they made the most of it,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said.
The Gophers emerged from a wild opening period with a lead, but just barely. They fell behind 2-0 as Wisconsin scored on a 5-on-3 power play and when Brock Caufield cleaned up a loose puck in front of Close.
But a scrum between Gophers captain Brock Faber and Wisconsin’s Charlie Stramel in front of the Minnesota net ended with Stramel tossed from the game for making contact with Faber’s head and the Gophers on an extended power play. They scored three times in the period’s final 2:22 to take a 3-2 lead into the locker room.
“That’s not a major. It’s not a penalty. But they decided to make a call,” Granato said of the tide-turning penalty on Stramel. “Sometimes referees see things that other people don’t…Four of them had to make the decision that there was intent to head-butt.”
Charlie Stramel received a game misconduct penalty for this and has been ejected. Big loss for the Badgers. pic.twitter.com/qFiv3oGPi7— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) December 11, 2022
The go-ahead goal, by defenseman Luke Mittelstadt, was a literal buzzer-beater that was ruled a good goal after a video review which showed .1 seconds on the clock when Mittelstadt’s shot crossed the goal line and sailed over McClellan’s right shoulder.
“I thought it was in. My gut told me it was in,” Motzko said. “Great play. (Mike) Koster over to (Bryce) Brodzinski and he finds a seam. Nobody panicking on the clock and (Mittelstadt) hurried it off.”
This is the closest buzzer beating goal I've ever seen, the review is frame by frame pic.twitter.com/e6qzCZGzUE— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) December 11, 2022
When the Gophers added two more quickly in the second to make it 5-2, Badgers coach Granato pulled McClellan in favor of Jared Moe, who got 26 seconds to settle in before Logan Cooley made it 6-2. Two late goals by the Badgers made it interesting, but Close stopped Wisconsin’s Sam Stange on a breakaway to keep the two-goal lead.
Moe finished with 13 saves in relief.
Midseason report card looks good
On the way to winning Wisconsin’s most recent NCAA title, in 2006, former Badgers coach Mike Eaves would talk about his team climbing a mountain, and dealing with all of the challenges inherent in such an endeavor.
As the Gophers reach the holiday break playing as well as any team in college hockey, in search of the program’s first national championship in two decades, Motzko provided some similar high-altitude imagery as his sent his team off to a respite.
“We’re ready for the break, We’re ready to take a little time off,” Motzko admitted. “I thought it was a tremendous first half for us. We grew immensely from the start to this point. We’re halfway up a mountain. We’ve got the tough half to go, but we’re on solid ground right now.”
For the Gophers players, there is a sense that this is a special team with the ability to do something once-in-a-generation, especially as the team’s 10 newcomers get acclimated to the conditions in the college game.
“We’re young. We just get better every weekend. We get better every week in practice, so it’s cool to see the success we’ve had,” said Koster, a junior defenseman. “We’ve had our low times too, but it’s cool to see where we can. We just have to keep building. We know it’s not going to come right away. We just have to keep pounding at it.”
Motzko stressed that the time off is a mental break more than a physical one, as his team has enjoyed relatively good health. For players like Matthew Knies, it also means a chance to get home to his native Arizona and be with family without World Juniors on his schedule this year. For Koster, who lives in suburban Chaska, he joked that there will be less distance involved, but time with family is cherished.
“I live 30 minutes away, so I can’t really get that far away,” he said, with a smile.
Healthy scratches for the Gophers on Friday included defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, and forwards Garrett Pinoniemi and Colin Schmidt.
The Gophers will now go 27 days without a real game as they break for the holidays. They have exhibitions versus the USA Hockey U-18 team on Dec. 29 in Minneapolis and on Dec. 31 at Bemidji State, but next play a game that counts on Saturday, Jan. 7 at St. Cloud State.
Minnesota 6, Wisconsin 4
First period — 1. WI, Corson Ceulemans 5 (Mathieu De Dt. Phalle, Brock Caufield), 11:37, (PP). 2. WI, Caufield 6 (Mike Vorlicky, Sam Stange), 14:31. 3. MN, Rhett Pitlick 8 (Cal Thomas), 17:37. 4. MN, Jimmy Snuggerud 12 (Jaxon Nelson, Jackson LaCombe), 18:07, (PP). 5. MN, Luke Mittlestadt 2 (Bryce Brodzinski, Mike Koster), 19:59, (PP). Penalties — Owen Lindmark, WI (hooking), 8:54; Matthew Knies, MN (hooking), 9:53; Logan Cooley, MN (high sticking), 9:53; Charlie Stramel, WI (5 & game misconduct – direct contact to the head), 15:54; Brock Faber, MN (roughing), 15:54.
Second period — 6. MN, Mason Nevers 4 (Koster, Brodzinski), 0:45, (PP). 7. MN, Connor Kurth 4 (Thomas, Charlie Strobel), 3:04. 8. MN, Cooley 10 (Knies, Snuggerud), 3:30. Penalties — Cruz Lucius, WI (hooking), 17:27.
Third period — 9. WI, Liam Malmquist 1 (Lucius, Luke LaMaster), 3:15. 10. WI, Anthony Kehrer 1 (Lucius, Carson Bantle), 6:39. Penalties — John Mittlestad, MN (holding), 7:29; Jack Horbach, WI (interference), 14:43.
Shots on goal — MN 7-12-7—26 WI 11-3-6—20. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (20 shots-16 saves); Kyle McClellan, WI (13-7), Jared Moe, WI (14-13). Power plays — MN 3-of-7, WI 1-of-3. Referees — Jake Rekucki, Tony Czech. Linesmen — Samuel Shikowsky, Chad Roethlisberger. Att. — 9,713.