Badgers’ sweep hurts Gophers

Wisconsin’s men’s hockey sweep over North Dakota aided in Minnesota dropping to fifth in the WCHA.

by Lou Raguse

In most instances, Minnesota men’s hockey fans would not be caught dead cheering for North Dakota. However, with Minnesota tied alongside Wisconsin and St. Cloud State for third place in the WCHA going into its non-conference series against Bemidji State last weekend, the Gophers would have benefited from the then-No. 1 Sioux taking down Wisconsin.

When highlights from the Badgers’ overtime victory over the Sioux flashed across ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Friday night, Gophers fans groaned. And to complicate matters more, Wisconsin followed with a convincing 5-2 win Saturday.

Although the Gophers swept Bemidji State in their weekend series and moved up to fourth in the national polls, they dropped to fifth in the WCHA.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia said he was surprised with the outcome of the Badgers-Sioux series.

“It certainly didn’t help us any,” Lucia said. “But it proves again that you can’t depend on anybody in this league. You have to have to earn everything yourself.”

Badgers forward Robbie Earl scored the game-winning goal in overtime Friday – completing the first hat trick of his career. Earl added another goal Saturday that won the game for the Badgers, 5-2.

Earl was rewarded for his four-goal weekend with the WCHA rookie of the week honor.

“Hopefully it was a breakout weekend for (Earl),” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “He’s shown flashes all season, but he put it together at a big time for us.”

Sioux coach Dean Blais was much happier with his team’s play Saturday, but said giving Wisconsin the dramatic victory Friday made them the more hungry and confident team Saturday.

“We blew a 3-1 lead Friday with six minutes to go,” Blais said. “Getting late into the game with a two-goal lead, you should hang on – no matter who you are.”

Despite relinquishing the lead late in the game Friday, Blais is not concerned with his team’s goaltending.

“It’s actually the first bad game both of them have played,” Blais said of Jake Brandt and Jordan Parise, who each started one game last weekend. “But the whole team didn’t play well Friday.”

Wisconsin junior Bernd Bruckler was named defensive player of the week after the goaltender held North Dakota’s top-ranked offense to two goals in the series. Bruckler shared the honor with St. Cloud State goaltender Tim Boron.

The two wins elevated Wisconsin to a second place tie with St. Cloud State in the WCHA while the Sioux – now No. 2 nationally – share first place with Minnesota-Duluth. Minnesota has a chance to regain ground this weekend against the Bulldogs while Wisconsin has a bye week.

Offensive honors

The WCHA offensive player of the week was awarded to Colorado College forward Marty Sertich.

Sertich – the Tigers’ leading scorer – contributed to five of the team’s seven weekend goals against Alaska-Anchorage.

Colorado College – which has hosted a first-round WCHA playoff series for 10 consecutive seasons – moved up to sixth in the WCHA, but has a difficult schedule to finish the season.

“We only play the one, two and three teams in the league,” Tigers coach Scott Owens joked in reference to their upcoming series against North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State. “And then we finish up against our rival, Denver, so it’s going to be tough.”