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Wisconsin Fights Back for Split with Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS – Many coaches will tell you that sometimes the better team ends up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

After #14 Wisconsin’s 3-2 victory over #7 Minnesota at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Saturday night, Badgers head coach Tony Granato anticipated that the Golden Gophers felt that way after the game-because he felt his team should’ve won on Friday night.

“Last night was a game that we walked out of here very proud of how we played,” Granato said, as his team avoided being swept for the first time this season and gained a split of the Big Ten series. “We played hard enough to win last night; the nice thing about college hockey is if you don’t win, you get another chance the next night.”

Granato was indeed right about how the Gophers felt after falling just short of their fourth sweep of the season. Minnesota had 20 of their 42 shots thrown at Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry in the final period, including a bunch in the final minutes with a late power play and goaltender Eric Schierhorn pulled for the final minute and about 20 seconds.

“Obviously, we were a little desperate to tie the game. It’s disappointing right now, but we’re gonna learn from it,” said Minnesota forward Casey Mittelstadt.

“I thought it was a really good college hockey game. I think both teams really competed,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “We had an unbelievable push in the third period, but a lot of times you just couldn’t buy a goal. You look at how many shots we had right in front; we just couldn’t get one by him. I thought we played way better tonight than we did last night, but we couldn’t score.”

The Gophers got off to a quick lead, drawing a power play after Wisconsin defenseman Tim Davison was sent off for interference just 1:25 into the game and scoring on a left-circle snipe from Mittelstadt a minute and a half later. The freshman seems to be finding his stride at a good time.

“We’ve talked to him about shooting more and shooting more quickly, and getting shots off,” Lucia said.

Wisconsin evened the game after Minnesota failed to clear the zone, scoring after Trent Frederic picked up the puck in the left corner and fed a wide-open Matthew Freytag, beating Schierhorn glove-side.

Late in the first, with Minnesota in the middle of killing off a Leon Bristedt hooking penalty, Jack Ramsey broke away and was slashed by Freytag to prevent a goal. The Gophers were given the option to either take the penalty and make it 4-on-4, or take a penalty shot. Lucia chose to take the penalty shot because he believes that’s what the crowd wanted.

“How many times do fans get to see a penalty shot?” Lucia said. “Probably the better percentage play was to take [Wisconsin] off the power play, but [that would] probably have everybody in the building upset. If it would have been late in the year, then maybe no.

“I wanted to show confidence for [Ramsey] too. He was the one who made the play to get the breakaway in that situation.”

Jack Sadek, one of just three players in the Minnesota starting lineup without a goal on the season, finally got his first to put the Gophers up 2-1 early in the second period as Brent Gates fed him from behind the net and Sadek rang it in off maybe three posts.

“Both [were] really good goals. We did a lot of good things,” Lucia said.

But once again, the Badgers had a response. After Minnesota narrowly missed a chance to go up by a pair, Wisconsin came charging back the other way and Seamus Malone made a nice toe-drag move and sniped it home from the slot to tie the game after two periods.

The Badgers got what proved to be the game-winning goal with 9:20 left in regulation on a crazy sequence. Jake Linhart appeared to shoot from the edge of the left circle and it deflected off both Wisconsin forward Trent Frederic and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf before it found its way in behind Schierhorn. The goal was credited to Frederic, and the lead held up despite Minnesota getting a power play after Jason Dhooghe was sent to the box with 2:31 left and Schierhorn coming off for the extra skater after a Wisconsin timeout to make it 6-on-4.

With under a minute left, the Gophers pressured in the Badgers end relentlessly, coming within inches of tying the game at least three times-including a point-blank chance by Mike Szmatula right in front of Berry-but to no avail as time ran out, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a wild victory.

“I just thought that [Szmatula] was having a good game and he’s gonna be around that net and he’s tenacious,” Lucia said. “That would be his spot in that situation. We had all those pucks around the net and [Berry] pulled a couple big saves. We just couldn’t get a goal. Most nights you get rewarded a little bit more, but tonight we didn’t.”

But Lucia rightfully acknowledged the performance by Berry, who made 40 saves on the night.

“He was really good. We’ve gotta give the goaltender credit for making some of those saves,” Lucia said.

Berry played well for the whole weekend, keeping the Gophers off the board Friday after he came on to relieve Kyle Hayton, and his performance Saturday was outstanding.

“He played really well to give us a chance last night, and tonight he followed up with the same type of performance,” Granato said. “It was a nice way to finish the series.”

Schierhorn finished with 29 saves for Minnesota. Both teams play one more series next week before the holiday break; the Gophers will visit the Ohio State Buckeyes while the Badgers return home to host the conference-leading Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Scoring summary:

First period:

MINN power-play goal at 3:01: Casey Mittelstadt (5). Assisted by Steve Johnson (6) and Rem Pitlick (11).

WISC goal at 12:25: Matthew Freytag (5). Assisted by Trent Frederic (8).

Second period:

MINN goal at 2:26: Jack Sadek (1). Assisted by Brent Gates (5) and Johnson (7).

WISC goal at 8:46: Seamus Malone (7). Assisted by Will Johnson (10) and Cameron Hughes (7).

Third period:

WISC goal at 10:40: Trent Frederic (8). Assisted by Jake Linhart (9) and Freytag (1).

Power plays: WISC 0-5, MINN 1-3.

Shots on goal: WISC 32, MINN 42.