MADISON, Wis. — Saturday night’s contest between Minnesota and Wisconsin was nearly an exact replica of the game they played on Friday. The only difference was that one team skated off a winner.
Minnesota outshot the Badgers, but once again squandered away a two-goal lead. Star player Thomas Vanek scored two goals again, but it was the outstanding effort of another Graz, Austria native who carried his team to victory.
Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler capped off an impressive weekend, making 39 saves Saturday for a series total of 71 as the Badgers walked away with three out of four WCHA points.
“I just got in a groove throughout the game and I was able to hold on and keep my team in the game,” Bruckler said.
Both teams came out with the intensity that one would expect after a 3-3 tie between bitter rivals the night before.
Vanek and the Gophers jumped on top early with a pair of impressive one-time goals.
Four minutes into the first, junior Garrett Smaagaard brought the puck into the Minnesota zone and passed it across to Vanek who blasted it past hometown rival Bruckler, putting the Gophers up 1-0.
Midway through the first, during a Minnesota power play, Vanek found the back of the net again on a similar play when Matt Koalska sent the puck his way. Vanek showed his talent with two great one-timers, increasing his total to four goals on the weekend.
“We stayed back on our heels a little bit and let them come out and dictate,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “Champions dictate. They came out and dictated in the first period and we didn’t.”
The two Austrians each put up impressive numbers this weekend, but each will tell you that stats do not matter in this rivalry. It is about who wins the games and for the first time in his career Bruckler and the Badgers have bragging rights over their border rivals.
“We didn’t get rewarded this weekend for how hard we played,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “That’s what’s frustrating.”
Less than one minute after the second Vanek score, the Badgers cut the deficit in half on an outstanding individual effort by freshman Jake Dowell. After deeking two Minnesota defenders he put a shot on net that was blocked by goalie Kellen Briggs but then put home his own rebound to make it 2-1. Last week’s WCHA Rookie of the Week made an attempt to garner the award again, scoring once and assisting on two Badger goals, including the game winner.
Early in the second, Minnesota regained its two-goal advantage when Barry Tallackson handled the loose puck in front of the net and backhanded it by Bruckler. But once again the Gophers found a way to give up their two-goal lead.
Just minutes later the Badgers capitalized on a power play. Rene Bourque skated in and connected on a pass to Tom Sawatske who shot the puck off of the pipe and in, cutting the lead to one.
Two minutes elapsed before the Badgers scored again. Briggs made the initial save again, but the shaky Gopher goaltending continued. After stopping a Dan Boeser shot, Bourque kept the puck alive and it rested on Briggs’ arm. Apparently not seeing the puck, he inadvertently let the puck fall off and into the Badger net, tying the game at three.
The Minnesota goalie continued a less than impressive season this weekend, allowing seven goals while making 42 saves.
With six minutes left, the Badgers found a way to score again, and they did so in dramatic fashion. With Minnesota on the power play, Dowell made an outstanding effort in gaining control of the puck and taking it into the neutral zone.
“I was just going to try and get in and get a shot or dump it,” Dowell said. “I was trying to make up for the two-on-one that we didn’t get a shot on.”
With the rest of the penalty kill squad changing up, fresh-legged Adam Burish bolted down the ice as Dowell took on two Gophers. Dowell saw Burish in the corner of his eye and did all he could to connect with Burish who rifled a shot past Briggs’ glove for a game-winning shorthanded goal.
“I’m still shaking” Burish said after the game. “It’s unbelievable to score my first goal at the Kohl Center shorthanded against Minnesota and to win the game is unbelievably special.”
The resilient Badgers struck again. Led by their goalie, they came back from a two goal deficit and defeated the two-time defending champion Gophers for the first time in nine attempts. Despite looking like the more skilled team, Minnesota could not close the door for the second night in a row, and as a result go home with just one point.
“It’s a victory in a special way for a lot of reasons,” Eaves said. “It gave us three out of four points against the national defending champions, a statement to the rest of the league and it keeps the momentum going.”
“The last couple of weeks we’ve molded ourselves and established ourselves,” Bruckler said. “Things are starting to go our way.”
It was the same old story for Minnesota. For the fifth game in a row it scored three goals, and for the fifth game in a row it walked away without a win. After Friday’s tie, they are still unbeaten when holding opponents to three goals or less; however, they have only managed to do that three times.
“We didn’t win, and the bottom line is winning games and getting points,” Lucia said. “We had some guys really grow this weekend, but we can’t give up four goals a game. You’re not going to win.”
Minnesota hopes to keep improving and should have Keith Ballard back for next weekend’s series against Michigan Tech. Wisconsin looks to ride the momentum of its six-game unbeaten streak into its matchup with Colorado College.