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Gophers Men’s Hockey blows out Badgers

Minnesota has won its last five games versus Wisconsin and outscored them 30-6.
Image by Ethan Fine
Forward Logan Cooley looks to pass the puck during the Gophers’ game against Penn State, Nov. 11.

The third-ranked Minnesota Gophers tallied 13 goals against their struggling rival the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday and Saturday. The two bordering schools are now on opposite ends of the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Standings as the first half of the season ends, with Minnesota on top and Wisconsin rock bottom.

Gophers go crazy
Friday night was the best offensive hockey the Gophers have played all season. They started off fast and furious and never took their foot off the gas pedal.

The first goal was acrobatically achieved by Logan Cooley, who slid and deked his way over multiple Badger defenders from the left circle to the right and pounded the puck into a wide open net. With a snipe from Jaxon Nelson, a powerplay strike from Bryce Brodzinski and a breakaway from Cooley, the Gophers entered the first intermission up 4-1.

“It’s been a rivalry for a long time now and the guys kind of got us pumped up who are seniors that’ve been in this position before and it was fun to be out there,” Cooley said.

Second period was still all gas, no breaks. Rhett Pitlick quickly skated down the left of the Badgers’ zone and brought home the Gophers’ fifth score of the game. This blowout would prompt a switch-up at netminder for Wisconsin with Kyle McClellan replacing Jared Moe with 15 minutes remaining in the second period.

At this point, Wisconsin led Minnesota in shots on goal 19-18. The problem was that Minnesota was generating more open shots due to a shaky Badger defense. Freshman Ryan Chesley would put an end to the period’s score-fest with the first goal of his collegiate career.

“I just saw a good play in front,” Chesley said. “Cools [Cooley] had a good chance to score and got the rebound, thought I could sneak down a little bit, hit me with a great pass, so maybe a little bit of a roommate connection there.”

In the third period, the Gophers were now gassed and put one in the scoring column. Aaron Huglen on a breakaway casually slid the puck in the net for the Gophers’ seventh score of the night. They would end the night with a dominant 7-1 win over Wisconsin even though the Badgers led in shots on goal 38-30.

“We made some plays early in the game, but it was not a 7-1 game at all,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said. “[Justen] Close had to make way too many saves tonight to keep it close.”

Stramel’s ejection sparks Gophers offense
The second chapter of this border battle proved to be more of a challenge for the boys in Maroon and Gold. Wisconsin opened the game with two goals with the first on a 5-on-3 powerplay. After the second goal, Minnesota was down in shots on goal 8-3 and seemed sluggish compared to an energized Badger bunch. Then the tables turned.

After a scuffle between Wisconsin forward Charlie Stramel and Gophers defenceman and captain Brock Faber, where Stramel slightly headbutted Faber, Stramel was ejected from the game with a major penalty for game misconduct.

With 2:23 left in the first period, the Gophers found a way to take the lead off of three straight powerplay goals. Pitlick and Jimmy Snuggerud quickly got in the scoring column, 30 seconds apart from one another’s goals.

Finishing off an eventful first period, Luke Mittelstadt sniped a shot from the left circle, beating the buzzer, placing the puck in the top left shelf of the Badgers net. After a period where Wisconsin was for the most part the better team, Minnesota led 3-2 at the conclusion.

“We just had belief that we know how to play hockey the right way,” Cal Thomas said. “Fall back to our roots, focus on the D-zone and everything will come from there.”

A lingering Liam Malmquist penalty stung for the Badgers in the second as high school teammate Mason Nevers (Edina) connected on a shot right in front of the Wisconsin net. Even when the Badgers returned to full strength, the Gopher scoring avalanche continued on as Connor Kurth and Cooley both scored, Kurth from a terrible angle behind the Badgers net to the right. The Badgers who were once up 2-0 in six minutes of game action were now down 6-2 at the end of the second period.

In the third period, Wisconsin managed to cut Minnesota’s lead in half and gave the Gophers a late scare as Sam Stange nearly completed a breakaway chance to make the game 6-5, but Justen Close stood strong between the pipes. The final score would be 6-4 with the Gophers leading in shots on goal 26-20. Gophers goalie Close finished the weekend saving 53 of 58 shots.

“A lot of craziness in the first period,” Motzko said. “I thought it was a tremendous first half for us, we grew immensely. We’re halfway up a mountain. We still got the tough half to go but we’re on solid ground right now.”

When Minnesota returns, it will play the United States National Under-18 Team and Bemidji State in a pair of exhibition matches before resuming regular season play. Their next opponent that will affect their record will be in-state rival No. 4 St. Cloud State in a home-and-home series on Jan. 7-8. The first game will be played in St. Cloud at 6 p.m. and be televised on the CBS Sports Network. The second game will be played in Minneapolis at 3 p.m. and be televised on Bally Sports North.

“Over break, it’s not a physical break it’s a mental break,” Mike Koster said. “Guys will be here training, guys will go home and train. It’s a mental refresh, and we’ll be ready after a couple of exhibition games for St. Cloud.”

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