DULUTH, Minn. — Wisconsin carried the momentum of a second period fight to defeat Minnesota-Duluth 5-1, in a WCHA contest Friday night.
Duluth native Andy Wheeler scored the game winner just before the first period buzzer, and Scott Kabotoff stopped 43 Bulldog shots to pace the Badger victory. In the middle of it all were 104 minutes in penalties dished out to the two teams; highlighted by a rare college hockey brawl between UMD’s Steve Rodberg and Wisconsin’s Erik Jensen.
The battle ensued just after a faceoff in the neutral zone as the Badgers led 2-1. The combatants dropped sticks, gloves and helmets and squared-off like two heavyweight prize fighters. What followed was about 30 seconds of furiously flying fists and a frenzied crowd.
Kabotoff said it seemed to invigorate his team: “It always does whether it’s supposed to be there or not. I haven’t seen a fight like that since I was in juniors, it was kinda fun.”
Although it didn’t appear to lift his team, UMD (4-4-1, 0-4-1 WCHA) head coach Scott Sandelin agreed it was fun: “I think it was great. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, it was good entertainment.”
Wisconsin (4-3, 2-1) head coach Jeff Sauer didn’t share his counterpart’s enthusiasm.
“You never like to see a fighting situation,” said the veteran Badgers coach.
Both Rodberg and Jensen were ejected from the game and are disqualified from participating in Saturday night’s rematch between the two teams.
The Badgers responded with three goals in the third period to cap the win, although the game’s most impressive tally has to go to Wheeler.
With his team shorthanded, the Badger captain took a pass from Dave Hergert in the neutral zone, darted up the right wing boards, faked two shots that took out a Bulldog defender and goaltender Rob Anderson, before wristing the puck in the back of the net with just 0.9 left to play in the period.
“That was a big lift for us,” said Sauer.
“Anytime, in the last minute, you get a goal for or against you, it gives a team a big let-down or a big momentum swing. For us it was a big momentum swing.”
The goal also allowed Wheeler to prove himself in front of a crowd that was hostile towards him every time he was on the ice.
“I love that stuff. I like it when people don’t like me, I eat that stuff up,” said Wheeler.
Sandelin gave credit to Wheeler, but believes a gaffe on his team contributed to the effort.
“We made a mistake, it was a bad decision. But he [Wheeler] made a great move, don’t get me wrong,” Sandelin said.
The game started relatively tame. The teams skated without any penalties during the first half of the opening period, but then came the turnaround at the 10-minute mark.
That’s when UMD took its first penalty. Twenty-nine seconds later, it took its second penalty, and the Badgers suddenly found themselves with a two-man advantage. However, despite five shots on Bulldog netminder Rob Anderson, and two that rang off the post, Wisconsin failed to get anything on the scoreboard during the five-on-three.
But it continued to apply pressure, and went ahead 1-0 when John Eichelberger re-directed a Brad Winchester blast from the left point past Anderson for his first goal of the year at 13:04.
UMD gave the home crowd of 4,683 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center its only goal to celebrate just under two minutes later. Judd Medak put away a rebound with just seven seconds left on a power play to tie the game at one.
That was followed by a series of penalties, including roughing minors to Jensen and Rodberg that may have been the precursor to the fight in the second period. Both players shared words with each other at center ice, then appeared to be ready to drop the gloves, until referees moved in to control the situation.
Kabotoff’s turn to shine came in the second period. The junior netminder stopped the middle session’s first seven shots on goal, including a brilliant pad save that closed the door on a seemingly wide-open net for Medak as he broke in with Junior Lessard on a two-on-one.
“I just slid across and got it with my pad,” said Kabotoff. “Makin’ a save like that gives the team a little confidence and me a little confidence.”
After Rodberg and Jensen’s tussle, the penalties continued to mount for both teams. And UMD had a golden opportunity to get on the board again when David Hukalo and Mark Jackson were sent to the Wisconsin sin bin for separate infractions with a 1:40 to go in the second period.
“That was our chance to get back into the game and go into the third period ahead,” said Sandelin.
But the Bulldogs failed to mount any considerable offensive threat during the five-on-three.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin went on to add to its lead in the third period. Rene Bourque scored his second goal of the season at 8:13 when he moved the puck forward along the left wing, despite being tangled up by a UMD defender. Bourque managed to scoot the puck ahead and tuck it in between Anderson’s right leg and the goalpost.
Andy Wozniewski made it 4-1, scoring the Badgers’ lone power-play tally on a slapper from the left point.
Another series of penalties followed, including a second skirmish that led to the removal of helmets. That however, only resulted in roughing double-minors and a 10-minute misconduct to Matt Doman and Medak.
UMD did apply some added pressure in the late going. While on the power play, the Bulldogs pulled Anderson in favor of a sixth attacker with 3:17 left, and managed about six shots that Kabotoff managed to deny.
Wisconsin capped its victory with an empty-net goal from Matt Hussey with 1:19 left to play.
The win was the ninth straight for the Badgers in Duluth.