Minnesota sweeps rival Wisconsin

Mark Remme

Coach Don Lucia didn’t predict seeing many goals in Minnesota men’s hockey team’s weekend series with Wisconsin.

His prognosis couldn’t have been more right.

But the Gophers showed an ability to play with the Badgers’ methodical defensive strategy, notching 2-1 and 3-1 wins in a weekend sweep at Mariucci Arena.

“It was a hard-fought weekend and we feel fortunate to come out with four points,” Lucia said.

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College Hockey Showcase
WHEN: 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Mariucci Arena

On Friday, an early power play goal by junior defenseman Alex Goligoski gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead just 2:22 into the first period.

Goligoski ripped a snapshot from the point that found its way past Badgers senior goalie Brian Elliott, who was screened by the traffic in front of the net.

But scoring came at a premium Friday night. Both Elliot and Gophers senior netminder Kellen Briggs showed patient, composed play in the crease.

Minnesota (10-1-2 overall, 6-0-2 WCHA) struggled to add to its 1-0 lead until freshman forward Jay Barriball took a feed from sophomore center Blake Wheeler 6:06 into the third period on one of the night’s few odd-man rushes.

Barriball’s ninth goal of the season tied him with fellow freshman Kyle Okposo for the team lead.

Briggs came within 4:44 of posting the 13th shutout of his career, giving up a late third period goal to senior winger Ross Carlson to cut the Minnesota lead to 2-1.

But Briggs shut the door the rest of the way. He allowed one goal on 26 shots and said the defense in front of him paved the way for the strong performance.

“Our guys did a good job moving the guys in front and letting me see,” Briggs said.

Meanwhile, Elliot steered away 33 of the 35 Gophers shots. The Hobey Baker finalist from a year ago remained poised after giving up the early goal to Goligoski.

Elliot kept the game close despite the onslaught of Minnesota shots. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves expressed displeasure in his team’s lethargic offensive performance.

“We had to rely on Brian too much to come up with big saves,” Eaves said. “We let them have too many scoring chances.”

Saturday’s game showcased more of the same offensive woes. The Badgers (4-8-2, 3-6-1) struggled to accumulate just nine shots through the first period and a half.

Sophomore goaltender Jeff Frazee had one of his finest performances in a Gophers uniform, making crucial saves at important junctures of the game.

Late in the second period and down 1-0, Frazee made a highlight reel save sprawling to his left. Senior winger Jake Dowell fed a pass to wide open freshman Michael Davies but Frazee was up to the task and made the stop to solidify the one-goal deficit.

“Coach said we had to outplay Elliot,” Frazee said. “That’s a pretty tall order, but we got the job done this weekend.”

The only goal through two periods came 14:37 into the second period. Badgers sophomore center Ben Street centered a puck off Goligoski’s skate and squeaked through Frazee’s pads.

But early in the third period a similarly odd play tied the score. Sophomore forward Ryan Stoa battled behind the net and lifted a puck toward the slot that bounced off Elliot’s back and into the goal.

And, with 5:43 to play, freshman forward Tony Lucia found a loose puck in the crease and netted it for his first career goal.

The goal completed the comeback, giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead and, along with an empty-net goal by Wheeler, helped solidify Minnesota’s unbeaten record in conference play.

“You always gotta keep fighting for your team no matter what the score is,” Frazee said. “We’re making a habit of coming back in games right now and that’s good to see.”

Hirsch sits out

Senior forward Tyler Hirsch did not suit up for Minnesota’s sweep of Wisconsin.

Lucia said Hirsch needs to catch up academically before he’ll be allowed to play with the team again, which he hopes will happen by next weekend’s College Hockey Showcase.

“I’m 100 percent in Tyler’s corner,” Lucia said. “I’ve told him as soon as he’s caught up he can play again, and I hope that happens this week.”

Hirsch missed all of last season after taking a medical redshirt leave.

“I told him when he came back that I wanted him to have a great year in hockey – which he’s having – and I want him to graduate,” Lucia said. “Those are the two most important things to me.”