The Minnesota Golden Gophers blew out the Wisconsin Badgers 9-2 Saturday night at the Kohl Center. The win gives the Gophers 24 points out of a possible 30 in the first half of conference play, guaranteeing them at least a share of the lead after all teams reach 10 games played. This was the first sweep in Madison since January of 2006.
The Gophers expected Wisconsin to come out with energy and did everything in their power to prevent that from happening. The Gophers won the opening draw and found the back of the net 12 seconds later. Hudson Fasching used a strong move to cut into the middle slot and scored on the first shot of the game. After a couple of good chances, Justin Kloos found the net at 4:05 on a wrist shot from the right circle. He beat Matt Jurusik's blocker on the far post. Mike Eaves had seen enough of Jurusik after 2 goals and 4 shots and pulled him for Adam Miller. Nearly two minutes later the Gophers scored their third goal of the game when Ryan Norman beat Miller on a backhand shot. Wisconsin used their timeout and put Jurusik back in net. At the 8 minute mark, Erik Schierhorn traveled way out of his net to try and prevent a breakaway and had to make a save from the top of the left circle. There was a brief period where it looked like the Badgers would score but Minnesota found a way to clear the puck amid the confusion.
The Badgers started to gain their footing in the middle portion of the period but a dangerous checking from behind penalty against Aidan Cavallini tilted the ice back in the Gopher's favor. Cavallini received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct for his hit on Tommy Novak. Taylor Camarrata scored 40 seconds into the power play on a wide open net after a nice cross-ice pass from Leon Bristedt in the corner. The Gophers would have a few more good chances in the power play but couldn't extend their 4-0 lead. Minnesota out-shot Wisconsin 12-4 in their best 20 minute stretch of the season.
The Badgers finally showed up in the second period, controlling all of the play in the first 5 minutes. The Badgers scored on a double deflection four and a half minutes into the second, finally gave the Kohl Center a reason to get loud. The Badgers did not let up and nearly scored a second time but Matthew Freytag missed the open net. After barely surviving a penalty kill, the Gophers started to push back. Leon Bristedt scored from the left dot at 15:35 to restore the 4-goal lead. As the goal was being announced, Grant Besse found the back of the net. Jedd Soleway of the Badgers was called for boarding with 2 to go in the period (the hit could have warranted more than 2 minutes). The Badgers had a 3 on 2 shorthanded chance that Schierhorn may have stopped with his mask. Michael Brodzinski was called for roughing in the post whistle scrum. The Badgers would start the third period with 1:41 of power play time. Wisconsin out-shot Minnesota 15-5 in the second while playing their best 15 minutes of the weekend.
The Gophers killed the rest of the penalty and Brodzinski quickly made up for his mistake by joining the rush and scoring 1:58 into the third. Roughly two minutes later, Eddie Wittchow of Wisconsin knocked Tommy Novak out cold with a reckless hit to the head. Wittchow appeared to line up Novak as he received a pass near center ice and drove a leaping shoulder into Novak's facemask.
Tommy Novak took a huge hit from Eddie Wittchow, was helped off the ice. Wittchow ejected pic.twitter.com/IW6ZOv64ji
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 24, 2016
Novak was out before he hit the ice and play stopped immediately. There was a heated scrum in the Wisconsin zone after the whistle but the refs did a good job separating the teams. Wittchow received a five minute major for contact to the head and a game disqualification which means he will be suspended for at least one more game. After a few scary minutes, Novak sat up and skated off the ice, mostly under his own power. He would not return to the game.
The Badger nearly scored a 2-on-0 shorthanded goal, but Schierhorn's toe pushed Besse's shot wide. The Badger PK was very aggressive trying desperately to cut into the lead. Eventually Connor Reilly redirected a feed from Leon Bristedt into the back of the net. Cameron Hughes was called for Interference during the final minute of the major penalty, giving the Gophers a short two-man advantage. Michael Brodzinski scored his second of the night with a nice wrister from the middle slot. Right as the Hughes penalty was ending, Connor Reilly and Patrick Sexton were called for coincidental minors behind the play.
Taylor Cammarata was denied on a breakway early in the 4v4 time. The Gophers were then content to play keep away. The teams traded possessions without much excitement for the next 6 or so minutes. With about 2 minutes to go and the Gophers leading 8-2, the Badgers nearly scored a goal. The student section thought the puck was in but the replay confirmed the puck hit the post and a Gopher stick is what popped the net. Brodzinski completed the hat trick with a seeing-eye wrister from the blue line with 55 seconds to go, extending the lead to 7 goals. The Gophers out-shot the Badgers 13-8 in the third and 30-27 on the night.
What does it all mean?
This was the most complete weekend for the Gophers all year, shutting Wisconsin out 4-0 on Friday and following that up with this beat down. Minnesota looks to be rounding into form at the perfect time. The Badgers cheap shots were inexcusable as 2 players were tossed and one more could have been. Eddie Wittchow knocked out Leon Bristedt in Minneapolis last year with a similarly dirty hit. The Gophers did not stoop to the Badgers level, instead focusing on their play. The best revenge is to put the puck in the back of their net and the Gophers did that 13 (!!!!!) times this weekend.
Penn State's loss to Ohio State means that no team has a chance to gain more points than the Gophers do this season. The recipe to winning a conference championship is sweep at home and split on the road. The Gophers took 12 of 18 road points in the first half while sweeping both home series. Don Lucia has the Gophers in a great position to win their fifth straight conference title in what was expected to be a rebuilding year.
The Gophers have won 5 straight games and 9 of 12, dating back to the start of B1G play. The Gophers have clawed up to 15th in the PairWise and 16th in KRACH. A strong North Star College Cup next weekend can help push the Gophers into a more comfortable position. On the flip side, two losses in the NSCC would likely mean the Gophers will need to win the B1G Tournament for the second straight year if they don't want to miss the NCAAs.