MADISON, Wis. — For perhaps the first time this year, the Minnesota Golden Gophers resembled the back-to-back national champions that they are. But resurgent Wisconsin, led by an unusually outspoken captain, rallied to take one point in a 3-3 tie.
Minnesota controlled most of the first two periods as its premier player stepped up, providing two goals. Unfortunately for sophomore Thomas Vanek, his efforts and the Gophers’ two-goal lead were squandered after Dan Boeser and the Badgers battled back in the third period.
“They showed why they [are two-time defending champions]. They showed that they can still play at a high level,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
The first period was spirited, yet sloppy. The emotion of one of the longest rivalries in college sports could be seen from the drop of the puck as the teams combined for 14 shots and 10 penalties in the period.
Despite not getting a shot on net until more than seven minutes into the game, the Gophers took their first lead of the night on one of their three first-period power plays.
Sophomore forward Tyler Hirsch took a pass from senior Troy Riddle and skated in. After stalling for a moment, he snapped a shot past junior netminder Bernd Bruckler for the 1-0 lead.
Wisconsin was unable to take advantage of a late-period opportunity and Hirsch’s goal proved to be the only one in the first.
The second period saw the Badgers continue their lackluster play, whereas Vanek and the Gophers stepped up. Minnesota didn’t take long to gain the momentum that lasted throughout the second period.
Less than two minutes into the period, junior forward Garrett Smaagaard passed the puck across the zone to Vanek, who fired on net. Bruckler appeared to be screened by a teammate as the puck flew past his glove for the 2-0 Gopher lead.
Though sloppy throughout, Wisconsin got on the board on an unorthodox power-play goal by a freshman.
Forward Robbie Earl took the puck and skated around the back of the net. With teammate Ryan MacMurchy in front, he had the option to center the puck, but chose to keep it. He had the presence of mind to ricochet the puck off of Briggs’ stick and into the net, cutting the Badger deficit in half.
However, it didn’t take long for Vanek to put in his second goal of the night. Bruckler committed a needless error by holding the stick of Gopher sophomore Gino Guyer. The result was a costly two-minute penalty.
Only 12 seconds into the ensuing power play Vanek ripped a shot over the glove of Bruckler from the top of the left circle, putting the Gophers up 3-1.
“It was frustrating,” Wisconsin freshman Jake Dowell said. “It felt like this was our first game and we didn’t know what we were doing.”
The Badgers were outplayed throughout the period, managing only four shots to the Gophers’ 16. The period saw just two penalties, a change in pace from the first, but each team came through on its only power-play chance.
“We were back on our heels,” Eaves said. “That’s why sometimes you pray for the end of the period.”
It was between the second and third periods where the biggest story of the game took place. Senior tri-captain Dan Boeser, usually the most softspoken of the leaders, broke out of his shell in the locker room. Frustrated at the team’s lack of effort, he challenged his teammates to turn things around.
“That’s probably as mad as I’ve been playing hockey in my life,” Boeser said. “I stepped out of my box a little bit and sometimes I have to do that.”
The blueliner backed up his message with action right away. Just 36 seconds in, he glanced the puck off of Minnesota forward Barry Tallackson’s stick. The puck bounced off the ice and then over the glove of Briggs for the Wisconsin goal.
Nearly four minutes later, Ryan MacMurchy extended his goalscoring streak to four games on an incredible individual effort. He skated around one defender and made an amazing move around another. Off-balance, he somehow managed to get his stick under the puck and lift it over Briggs’ glove one more time, knotting the game at three.
Neither the rest of regulation nor overtime saw many chances for either team, and the game ended in a 3-3 draw.
“I thought that we played a pretty good game other than the first five minutes of the third period,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “But we did a lot more good things than bad tonight.”
The recently high-powered offense of the Badgers managed only 20 shots on goal while Bruckler came through for them, stopping 32 shots, 28 after the first period.
Minnesota showed improvement, but still managed to give away a two-goal lead.
“It was a step forward. It’s just disappointing when you have a two-goal lead going into the third period and you don’t put it away,” Lucia said.
The Badgers saw a dismal side of their team that hadn’t been seen this year, but also showed resiliency and desire.
“The way we came out in the third and achieved what we wanted: a better period and a turnaround for our team, I think we have to be happy with the point,” Bruckler said.
Obviously neither team was overly impressed with its performance, and assuredly neither will be happy settling for a tie Saturday in the rematch.