Gophers continue enigmatic ways in loss and tie with Wisconsin

Freshman Nate Condon races University of Wisconsin Defenseman Frankie Simonelli  for the puck Friday at Mariucci Arena.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Freshman Nate Condon races University of Wisconsin Defenseman Frankie Simonelli for the puck Friday at Mariucci Arena.

by Austin Cumblad

Maybe head coach Don Lucia said it best. Right now, his team is âÄúpuzzling.âÄù

Here was Minnesota, on a three-game win streak and six days removed from a convincing road sweep of Colorado College. Border rival Wisconsin was in town. Should be an easy one to get up for, right?

Apparently not.

The No. 17 Gophers (5-4-1 overall, 3-4-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) were flat from the opening faceoff, but the 15th-ranked Badgers steamrolled them anyway Friday night, 6-0. Minnesota was five skaters down, but available personnel was hardly the issue. They proved as much on Saturday by actually playing Wisconsin (6-2-2, 3-1-2 WCHA) like a rival and nearly earning a split. Jordy MurrayâÄôs third goal of the series tied the game 3-3 late in the third period, and after a scoreless overtime period the Badgers left Mariucci Arena with three points.

âÄúItâÄôs puzzling,âÄù Lucia said after Friday nightâÄôs bloodbath. âÄúWeâÄôve got to have a little mental toughness if we get down by one or two. WeâÄôve got to stop the bleeding.âÄù

An inability to stop the bleeding has become a disturbing trend for the Gophers early in the season; Friday nights at home have been calamitous. In their first three WCHA series at Mariucci Arena, theyâÄôve fallen into 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0 holes and, not surprisingly, have never come back to win.

First it was conference newcomers Nebraska-Omaha that came in and surprised Minnesota with three first-period goals and another in the second before the Gophers fought back to tie the game late in the third period. The comeback was negated, however, by Alex Hudson, who scored in the final two minutes for a 5-4 Mavericks win.

The following weekend St. Cloud State pounced on a lifeless Minnesota squad with five unanswered, but allowed Mike Hoeffel and Taylor Matson two laughably inconsequential goals in the third period.

The Badgers, though, wouldnâÄôt even concede a consolation goal or two. They gladly watched the Gophers sling wishful shots from the perimeter and let goaltender Scott Gudmandson turn away all of MinnesotaâÄôs 24 attempts on net.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin was camped in front of Alex KangasâÄô goal. Between a trio of wraparound goals and the others in the low slot, the Badgers scored all of their goals from essentially inside the crease.

âÄúHe didnâÄôt get a lot of help,âÄù Lucia said of Kangas. âÄúWe didnâÄôt eliminate anybody in our own zone.âÄù

Quite the opposite, the Gophers seemed rather inviting. Senior captain Jay Barriball admitted as much after the game.

âÄúThey outworked us in the corners; they beat us to the net. We didnâÄôt do too many things good tonight.

âÄúWisconsin is one of our biggest rivals. We canâÄôt let them come into Mariucci Arena and beat us 6-0. It happened tonight and it hurts. It hurts real bad.âÄù

Adequately embarrassed, Minnesota returned with a vengeance Saturday, played a physical, energetic game, and nearly took back the two points it gave away so freely on Friday.

It started with MatsonâÄôs fourth goal in four games. Less than five minutes into the first, he bore down on WisconsinâÄôs Brett Bennett and almost effortlessly beat the senior top shelf. Senior Jacob Cepis added a second at 11:41 on the GophersâÄô first power play, a simple sweep into a wide-open net off a back door, backhand pass by freshman Erik Haula.

But the Badgers scored on their first two power plays, in the closing minutes of the first and the opening minutes of the second, to tie the game at two.

BarriballâÄôs team-leading ninth goal of the season, a whistling slapshot from the point with 73 seconds remaining in the second, put Minnesota back in front. It stayed that way until MurrayâÄôs late equalizer on a puck that goaltender Kent Patterson thought he had covered. The junior had lost his stick in a scrum near his crease, however, and Murray stuffed it home.

âÄúThatâÄôs the most disappointing thing,âÄù Barriball said after the game. âÄúWe thought we played well enough to get the win tonight, and they get a bounce at the end from behind the net and it trickles in. But you know, thatâÄôs hockey.âÄù

Budish elects season-ending surgery

Sophomore winger Zach Budish, injured Monday in a mo-ped accident, will have season-ending right knee surgery, Lucia said Saturday night.

âÄúI think thatâÄôs the right thing to do,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúHeâÄôs obviously disappointed; weâÄôre disappointed for him, for our team. But youâÄôve got to look at the big picture. ThatâÄôs what I told him. I thought he should [have surgery].âÄù

Budish had two goals and four assists this season prior to the injury. HeâÄôs also the GophersâÄô biggest skater, a presence they will surely miss going forward.

Exactly who will replace him on the second line is still undecided. Senior Patrick White practiced at right wing this week but fell ill and didnâÄôt play against Wisconsin.

âÄúItâÄôs a curse right now,âÄù Lucia said of BudishâÄôs vacated position. âÄúWhitey went on it for one day and got the flu. ItâÄôs kind of a black hole.âÄù