MADISON, WI — Jeff Sauer said he felt more nervous than usual.
His team was fine.
In the Badgers’ first game since Sauer announced his plans to retire at the end of the season, Minnesota outshot Wisconsin 53-27 and scored three power-play goals, but the Badgers still won going away, 8-3.
The Badger faithful at the Kohl Center Friday showed their respect for Sauer with an enthusiastic ovation.
“It was a great crowd, great atmosphere; it was really fun,” Sauer said. “This goes down as one of the — well just with all of things that have happened this week, this one will be on the top of the list in terms of playing Minnesota, beating Minnesota and just a very, very satisfying evening.”
“It looked like my team retired,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia quipped.
Three Badgers scored two goals each and all six senior forwards came away with points Friday night.
Goaltender Scott Kabotoff, however, stole the show. Kabotoff withstood a barrage from the Gophers and came away with 50 saves. The junior goaltender did give up three goals, but they were the product of 30 shots on eight Gopher power plays.
Kabotoff was particularly solid in a frenetic second period, during which he garnered 20 saves, including five in the final 54 seconds of the period with Minnesota on the power play.
“What do you say about Scott Kabotoff,” Sauer said. “He just continues to play very strong. Too many shots, too many power plays to kill off, but the reality is the puck was bouncing for us tonight. We took advantage of our opportunities.”
“It is kind of funny,” Lucia said. “It is not very often one goalie has 50 saves and the other has 18 and you lose 8-3. It was that kind of night for us.”
While Kabotoff was containing Minnesota, the Badgers were taking target practice on Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser.
“Adam has played well all year,” Lucia said. “Tonight was not one of his finest games. He seemed like he was fighting the puck right from the beginning.”
The Badgers tallied five goals on 23 shots in two periods of work against Hauser.
The scoring began when Wisconsin’s Matt Hussey intercepted an attempted clearing pass deep in the Gophers zone and fired a wrist shot past Hauser.
About midway through the first period, another turnover led to a 2-0 Wisconsin lead. This time Minnesota turned it over in the Badgers zone, but senior Matt Murray pushed the puck quickly up ice on a two-on-one with senior linemate David Hukalo. Murray kept the puck for the duration of the rush and finished it off with a deke past Hauser for his third goal of the year.
“I was unusually nervous tonight for some reason,” Sauer said. “Maybe it was all the TV stuff before the game. Then once we got going and got those two goals I felt very good.”
Freshman Alex Leavitt put the Badgers up 3-1 just seconds after the conclusion of a power play early in the second period. Leavitt started the play with a cross-ice pass to junior defenseman Brian Fahey at the point then collected a loose puck in front of the net after senior wing Matt Doman and sophomore wing Rene Bourque kept Fahey’s rebound alive.
Senior center Andy Wheeler scored the first of two Wisconsin shorthanded goals at 7:26 in the second then notched his second goal of the period at 18:43 to give the Badgers a 5-2 lead.
“We gave up 30 power-play shots so we needed two shorthanded goals,” Wheeler said.
Kabotoff’s play at the end of the second period brought an already raucous Kohl Center crowd to frenzy and secured the Badgers momentum going into the final period.
Minnesota replaced Hauser in net with freshman Travis Weber for the third period.
“Adam Hauser has played some great, great hockey games against the Badgers in his career,” Sauer said. “I know that he will take this one to bed and forget about and get up tomorrow and get ready to go again.”
Weber gave up three goals on four shots.
With the Badgers leading 6-3, Leavitt and Murray finished off the scoring with their second goals of the game.
“I’m just disappointed we just made some real bonehead plays,” Lucia said. “There are a lot of guys who had off nights.”
The talk Friday night kept returning to Sauer’s retirement plans.
“My one concern all week was how my team was going to be mentally prepared,” Sauer said. “Mentally I just did not know where we would be. I thought we came out and played very, very solid hockey right away.”
“It brought us together a little bit and we were able to play like a team better than we have all year tonight,” Wheeler said.
“If you believe in fate, tonight’s a good night for it,” Lucia said.