Gophers sweep border blowout of Badgers

Adam Fink

As the final minute ticked off the clock Saturday night, the five Minnesota’s men’s hockey players on the ice raced to the puck, checked Wisconsin players and refused to relax.

The Gophers on the bench were on their feet encouraging their teammates. And the crowd of 10,150 at Mariucci Arena was on its feet cheering.

While the 8-1 Minnesota victory was never in doubt after the first period, the final moments of the game were indicative of the weekend’s success.

Minnesota consistently displayed high energy, out-hustled the Badgers and received contributions from all over the line chart.

Along with Friday’s 5-2 win, Minnesota (16-7-7, 11-5-5 WCHA) earned the sweep en route to playing arguably its most complete weekend of the season.

“For a two-game series, this might be the best,” said Keith Ballard, who scored two goals in the first period Saturday. “We are neck in neck in league standings. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Winners of five of its past six games, Minnesota sits in third place in the conference, only two points shy of second-place Minnesota State-Mankato.

It was the way the Gophers swept that impressed coach Don Lucia and brings optimism for a tough stretch of upcoming games.

Minnesota didn’t receive any goals from its top two scorers

– Thomas Vanek and Troy Riddle – yet the games weren’t close.

Freshmen P.J. Atherton, Tyler Hirsch and Andy Sertich all scored. The trio previously combined for eight goals all season.

Matt Koalska – Minnesota’s top line center who notched five goals entering the series – scored twice in the first period Saturday.

Barry Tallackson, who garnered high praise from the coaching staff despite zero goals all season, tallied two Saturday.

“Everyone contributed,” Lucia said. “It was rewarding. A couple of guys who we need to score did.”

The all-around scoring effort took center stage over the weekend, as Wisconsin struggled to slow down the Gophers’ four lines.

However, the consistently high energy level was even more impressive.

“It shows the full team game,” Hirsch said. “The energy on the team right now is so high. You can just feel it.”

Both nights, Minnesota started the games strong and dictated the tempo.

The Gophers took control of the series with crisp execution, solid communication and hustle.

“For 12 minutes, we were fun to watch and played with them,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said Friday. “For the other 48 minutes, they won the loose puck battles, went hard and controlled the game.”

Minnesota won on a Friday night in WCHA play for only the fifth time this season (in 11 chances).

An arsenal of weapons and a high intensity level proved too much for Wisconsin (10-19-3, 4-15-3). The challenge for Lucia is maintaining the level of play.

“Every series is a huge series,” Lucia said. “We have to continue to get the strong play from all the lines and know we can’t let any points slip away.”

The Gophers travel to Minnesota-Duluth this weekend for their first look at their northern rival this season.

After facing the fifth-place Bulldogs, Minnesota plays Denver and St. Cloud State.

None of the three will be a cakewalk, but an all-around effort against Wisconsin has Minnesota playing its most consistent hockey of the year.

“We will find out how good this team is,” coach Don Lucia said. “We will get what we deserve. It’s up to us now.”

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and

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