Seth Ambroz's performance paralleled Minnesota's Friday afternoon as the Golden Gophers went on to win the first-ever Big Ten hockey conference game against its biggest Big Ten rival.
The junior forward scored twice, including an empty net goal, in a 4-1 win over Wisconsin (4-4-1, 0-1-0-0 Big Ten) at Mariucci Arena. Both Mike and Connor Reilly added goals for Minnesota (10-2-1, 1-0-0-0 Big Ten) and Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick) made 24 saves to rebound from being pulled last Sunday.
"It's something we talked about - getting the first win ever," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said after Friday's game. "So I'm really for us to come out and get the first win in the first game."
The Badgers, however, were the team that got the first-ever goal in Big Ten conference play. Wisconsin junior Joseph LaBate beat Wilcox 6:31 into the game for his 4th goal of the season. The goal gave Wisconsin confidence during a stretch where the Gophers continued to accumulate power plays. The home team had five in the first period and eight throughout the game.
Even worse, Minnesota hit a low point when teammates Tom Serratore and Ambroz (Columbus Blue Jackets) collided with one another behind the Badgers net.
"Usually the team winning first wins 65% of game," said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves, whose team entered Friday's game with 1 loss in its last 4 games. "That was the start we wanted, but we weren't able to maintain that and get some goals."
The New Prague, MN native was slow to get to his feet after getting the wind knocked out of him, however, Ambroz did not miss a shift. A minute later, Mike Reilly (Blue Jackets) made the most of a Minnesota power play when Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) got him the puck off the initial face-off and Reilly tied the game with his sixth goal of the season.
"It was a great win by Rau to get it back to me. I just had to get it to the net," Reilly, who didn't realize after the game it was the first Big Ten Gopher goal. "(Hudson) Fasching had a great screen and I didn't have to do much."
Serratore made it up to his linemate less than four minutes later when he passed the puck to Ambroz and the junior banked it off Wisconsin goalie Landon Peterson for a 2-1 Minnesota lead.
"It kind of seemed like the goalie lost his footing and I wanted to see what happens," Ambroz said. "Coaches talk about throwing pucks at the net from bad angles all the time. I just tried it and was fortunate enough to get it in the back of the net.
"Sometimes it just takes one of those cheesy goals to get the boys going. I was happy enough to get the boys going."
It was a turnaround for Minnesota, whose penalty kill went 3-7 against Minnesota-Duluth on Sunday. The Gophers killed all five penalties the team took against Wisconsin despite the Badgers challenging Wilcox. For Eaves, Wisconsin's power play woes were a factor stretching from the Badgers being off last week and three byes in six weeks.
"It takes a while. NFL people talk about the offense in football," he said. "They have to find their rhythm. They have to get a feel for it. The power play and offense is no different."
Although Wisconsin pressed on Wilcox as the game went on, the South St. Paul, MN native denied what looked like certain goals to Badgers forwards Jedd Soleway, Tyler Barnes and defenseman Jake McCabe (Buffalo Sabres).
Wilcox's counterpart, Peterson, was up to task as well. The junior goaltender had previously made 41 saves at Mariucci Arena last season. This year he matched it both numbers and saves-wise, however, Minnesota held onto an edge in the goals department.
Connor Reilly, playing on the second line Friday in place of Taylor Cammarata (New York Islanders), made it 3-1 Gophers with 9:14 remaining on what Lucia called "a goal scorer's goal."
"I was coming off the off-wing and I was initially going to give the puck to (Justin) Kloos going to the net for a redirect. He was covered so I just kind of changed the puck and the angle. I put the puck a couple feet left instead of five-hole," said Reilly, who only practiced with Kloos and Nate Condon the day before as Cammarata was out with a lower-body injury.
Lucia said after the game that Cammarata was "day-to-day" and is possible for tomorrow.
The Badgers pulled Peterson with 2:02 remaining for a last gasp, but Ambroz added an empty netter 46 seconds later to make it 4-1.
It was a solid finish for Ambroz, who now has four goals in his last two games against Wisconsin. Still, while his play paralleled Minnesota's, it wouldn't have happened without linemates Serratore and Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals). The trio have scored four goals since being reunited in the third period of November 16th's game against Minnesota State.
"I thought Boyd's line was really good tonight," Lucia said. "They were the key for us tonight."
Minnesota and Wisconsin play again tomorrow (Saturday November 30) at 5 p.m. CT. Fox Sports North will broadcast the game in Minnesota while Fox Sports Wisconsin will broadcast the game in Wisconsin.
WISCONSIN - Joseph LaBate (4) (Jake McCabe, Mark Zenegerle 6:31)
MINNESOTA - Mike Reilly (6) (Kyle Rau 9:23 PP)
MINNESOTA - Seth Ambroz (4) (Tom Serratore, Justin Holl 13:14)
MINNESOTA - Connor Reilly (Nate Condon, Justin Kloos 10:46)
MINNESOTA - Seth Ambroz (Ben Marshall, Travis Boyd 18:26 ENG)
Wisconsin 8 - 4 - 13 -- 25
Minnesota 15 - 12 - 18 -- 45
-Minnesota forward Sam Warning was scoereless and had his 12 game point streak snapped against the Badgers.
-Eaves did not say whether Peterson or Joel Rumpel would start Saturday's series finale.
-Eaves on Friday's game being nationally televised: "If I'm a college fan, it was a pretty good game."
-Ambroz, who didn't see Serratore coming, on the hit: "He hits hard. I was going northbound on a southbound freeway there."
-Former Minnesota forward Erik Haula made his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild on Friday. Haula, who played for the Gophers from 2010-13, picked up an assist in a 3-1 loss to Colorado.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate