Sweep of Badgers provides Gophers much-needed lift

Adam Fink

MADISON, Wis. – With 63 seconds left to play Saturday night, a broom was thrown onto the Kohl Center ice.

Ahead 3-2, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team made a final defensive stand against Wisconsin – who had pulled its goaltender – to complete a weekend sweep of Wisconsin in Minnesota’s most impressive series performance of the season.

The 10th-ranked Gophers received strong goaltending and the emergence of some surprising players en route to 3-0 and 3-2 victories that brought out the brooms.

Minnesota (9-4-4, 6-2-2 WCHA) tallied its fourth and fifth straight wins in the series, but more importantly, gained momentum and confidence heading into the break.

Minnesota now sits in third place in the WCHA standings, four points behind conference-leading Colorado College.

“This was an important weekend,” coach Don Lucia said. “We came out and played well from the start. We have put ourselves into a good situation heading to break.”

Earning four points was in doubt late in the third period of Saturday’s contest until Matt DeMarchi took a pass from Dan Welch – who was stationed to the right of the goal – as he skated through the Badgers defense and scored.

The game-winner by the senior, at the 16:37 mark, came after DeMarchi told Welch about the gap in the Wisconsin defense during the second intermission.

“I am starting to take on a different role,” said DeMarchi, who is known for his defensive capabilities but has earned a spot on the team’s second power-play unit. “I am getting more chances to produce.”

Production also came from Jake Fleming, who tied the game at one with his goal early in the second period. Fleming only scored one prior goal this season.

Other than goals from unlikely sources, the key to the pair of wins was goaltending.

Travis Weber got the nod both nights. The sophomore saved a quiet 17 shots Saturday night – compared to the Badgers’ Bernd Bruckler, who saved 40.

But Weber’s performance Friday night was nothing short of his best as a Gopher.

In his seventh-straight start, Weber stifled the stagnant Badgers offense with 31 saves and recorded his first career shutout.

“I had a great warm-up,” Weber said. “I felt very comfortable. I have a lot of confidence right now.”

Freshmen Gino Guyer and Chris Harrington – both in recent scoring slumps – tallied second-period goals to provide a cushion. Welch added a third period goal for the final margin.

For Wisconsin, the weekend answered little about its ability to score. The Badgers (5-11, 1-7) have lost six straight, are in the midst of a 2-for-40 drought on the power play and never put together any consistency during the weekend.

“Until we play three periods, we won’t win,” Badgers defenseman Adam Burish said. “(Weber) played well, but I don’t think we challenged him enough.”

As for the Gophers, the weekend marked the first time each aspect of the game – goaltending, offense and defense – clicked together.

“We have been juggling the lines, battling injuries and learning to play with each other,” Harrington said. “But it’s all coming together now. We are starting to feel comfortable out there, and it showed in how we played.”

ï Minnesota faces Team Italy on Monday night in an exhibition at Mariucci Arena. The game starts at 7:05. Sophomore Justin Johnson will start in goal.