Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser skated directly for the lopsided, red “W” painted at center ice of the Kohl Center following Minnesota’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Badgers on Saturday. He stood statuelike with his mask halfway off and resting on his forehead.
The pileup of Badgers behind Hauser grew bigger as the bench cleared to join the celebration, but Hauser didn’t flinch. He just waited to shake the hands of No. 7 Wisconsin, to thank the Badgers for sweeping his team with two last-minute goals.
The Badgers also won Friday 4-3.
Flashes of Wisconsin’s (9-1-0, 7-1-0) scoring tandem — senior center Steve Reinprecht and freshman winger Dany Heatley — undoubtedly ran through Hauser’s head. The pair combined for five of the Badgers’ nine goals on the weekend. Reinprecht had the game-winner on Saturday.
Injuries also hurt Minnesota in the series finale. Gophers coach Don Lucia lost the services of winger Rico Pagel (sprained ankle) and center Nick Anthony (rib contusion) in the first period, and defenseman Nick Angell (thigh bruise) in the second.
Down a line, the Gophers fell prey to a bigger Wisconsin team, losing a step in a very physical contest.
“That was a game for men only,” Lucia said. “(The Badgers) are big. We got physically overpowered at times.”
A two-goal Minnesota lead — junior center Erik Westrum tapped in a rebound past Badgers goalie Graham Melanson and junior defenseman Dylan Mills capitalized on a first period power play — evaporated halfway through the second period.
Tied at two in the third, Westrum countered with his second goal of the night, following his own rebound. Saturday marked the first time the junior captain had scored since the team’s opening weekend at Maine.
“I think I’ve played three good games total this year and that’s one of the biggest problems and why we’re losing,” Westrum said. “I haven’t been doing my role.”
The Badgers found the back of the net at 12:36, but Minnesota answered a little more than a minute later to regain a one-goal lead. Wisconsin’s Heatley fired an unassisted shot from the right side of the crease, and sent the game into overtime where Hauser failed to stop Reinprecht’s shot with just 54 seconds remaining. Hauser stopped 31 shots Saturday.
“I just told them, ‘Hey, you played your rear off tonight in a lot of adversity,'” Lucia said. “They had a lot of excuses. They could have thrown in the towel, but they didn’t.”
On Friday, Minnesota was left to rally from a two-goal deficit. Gophers wingers Nate Miller and Shawn Roed both had a power-play goal late in the second to tie the score.
But a slashing penalty on Mills halfway through the second helped put the Badgers back on top until the third. Gophers winger Aaron Miskovich scored his third of the season at 5:22.
Seven seconds away from overtime, Badgers winger Dustin Kuk clinched the game on a controversial play. Wisconsin center Matt Murray grabbed the puck from Gophers defenseman Jordan Leopold after spinning him around in the right corner of the Gophers zone. Kuk nabbed the rebound off the shot of Badgers winger Matt Doman and snuck it under Hauser.
“A wild play. I’d like to see it, I know that,” Leopold said. “The guy grabbed me and grabbed my stick or my hand or something, just caught me off balance and spun me around.
“We wanted to push overtime, but it didn’t happen. Wish the clock would have went a little faster.”
The Gophers return home this weekend for a two-game series with Minnesota-Duluth. And some familiar frustrations are creeping back into Minnesota’s thoughts.
“Some of these guys have been around for three years and the same thing has been happening the last three years,” Leopold said. “It’s just unexplainable. We’re trying to figure out the bits and pieces.”
Sarah Mitchell covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]