Big Ten season opens with two-game series at Wisconsin

The Gophers have lost their last three games, and haven't scored a 5-on-5 goal in that span.

Jack Warrick

The Gophers hockey hasn’t been dealt any favors in terms of beginning of the year schedule this season.

First they had No.1 ranked Minnesota Duluth, then perennial power North Dakota followed by a physical Mankato team that moved to No. 3 in the nation this week.

Now Minnesota is schedule to take on “the red team” as defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf called the team-that-shall-not-be-named just one Big Ten school to the East of Minnesota.

“It’s a thing I like to do,” Zuhlsdorf said about his nick name for Big Ten rival Wisconsin-Madison. “Our old coach (Don Lucia) used to call them that because with his history, he had a lot of bouts with them too, so just carry over the tradition.”

Minnesota will play two games in No. 20 Wisconsin’s Kohl Center on Friday and Saturday to start the Big Ten conference play. The Gophers won three of four total match ups last season with the Badgers. 

Senior Tyler Sheehy has played 12 career games against the Badgers, and leads the team with 14 points against the Badgers.

“Starting off at Wisconsin, it’s going to be another tough series,” Sheehy said. “But we’ve had a good schedule so far to prepare us for this, and I think we’ve had a good week as well.”

Coming off the first series loss of new head coach Bob Motzko’s tenure with the Gophers against Mankato last weekend, the Gophers have struggled with penalties and getting the offense operating. The Gophers took their first big loss on Friday with a 5-1 defeat before a close 2-1 loss that gave Mankato the series victory on Saturday.

“There’s just a real cuteness to our team that doesn’t belong in hockey,” Motzko said after the 5-1 loss Friday.

The Gophers have taken 37 penalties this season, making for about a period each game (20.8) of penalty kill hockey. 

The Gophers started the season feeling good after beating and then tying Duluth in the first weekend series. They had two scrimmage-like games in the USA under 18 team and Trinity Western University, and beat each team 7-1. Then reality hit in the last couple weeks with tough competition in North Dakota and Mankato. They have been outscored in the three consecutive losses 10-3

“It’s been a tale of two stories for us. We start off with Duluth and obviously come out of that feeling real good, and then two exhibition games we pile a bunch of goals in” Motzko said. “So then we play three games and like, ‘oh, wow,'”

Sampo Ranta, a freshman forward who has three points this season, was committed to Wisconsin before asking for a release and switching over to Minnesota in August, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The Finland-native wing was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the third round in June.

The Gophers look to clean up their play as they head into the Big Ten season. Minnesota is scheduled to play a weekend series every weekend until a break from Dec. 9 to Dec. 27.