MINNEAPOLIS — Hollywood couldn’t have drawn up Tony Lucia’s first goal much better.
Sure, all he had to do to score the game-winning goal was poke the puck into an empty right side of the net, but try this script on for size: It was the game-winner against Minnesota’s archrival, Wisconsin. It was against an All-American goaltender in Brian Elliott. And he was playing for the No. 2 team in the country, coached by his father, and his mother and sister were in the stands.
“There’s no better way I could’ve imagined it,” Tony Lucia said. “To score at home in front of this great Mariucci crowd, I can barely remember what happened.”
What happened was that he secured a sweep of No. 14 Wisconsin — stretching Minnesota’s unbeaten streak to 12 games — in a game of bounces and breaks that ended with a 3-1 Gopher victory in front of 10,193 fans.
For a moment, it looked as if the Badgers might have caught the lucky break that they need to break out of what is now a five-game losing streak.
Sophomore center Ben Street’s attempt at a centering pass grazed off a Gopher before deflecting off Minnesota goalie Jeff Frazee and into the net, giving UW a 1-0 lead with 5:23 left in the second period.
The Badgers nearly doubled their lead with about a minute left in the frame. Jake Dowell found a wide-open Michael Davies at the right side of the slot, but Frazee — who was solid all night — denied him the goal and Wisconsin took a 1-0 lead into the final 20 minutes.
“I thought it might hold up, to be honest,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said.
But he rallied his players in the locker room. The Gophers came out and killed off nearly four straight minutes of penalties before scoring three times in the final 16 minutes.
The first came on a bounce similar to Street’s. After his initial shot was blocked, Ryan Stoa kept with the puck, skated it behind the net and fired it at UW goalie Elliott’s back.
The puck deflected off of the back of the All-American’s equipment and into the net to even the game, 1-1.
“It seemed like the only way goals were going to be scored were off a leg or off a shin pad,” Don Lucia said. “Goalies weren’t going to get beat clean all weekend long.”
The same held true for his son’s goal. Elliott made an initial save, but in his attempt to glove a loose, floating puck, he was toppled over amidst teammates and foes. All Lucia had to do was dive at the loose puck and swipe it into the empty right side of the net.
“It was like a big steak just sitting out there and I just dove on it so fast,” he said.
“I think all the goals tonight was just the puck going to the net and taking bounces off legs and off feet and then finding an opening,” Street said. “That was the way it went all night and they got a couple more bounces than we did. That’s the way it goes, that’s hockey.”
The Badgers called timeout with 1:06 left in the game and pulled Elliott for an extra attacker, but Minnesota’s Blake Wheeler threw home the dagger with an empty-net tally at 19:13.
Elliott was dealt another loss despite making 27 saves. At the other end, Frazee matched Elliott’s solid performance with 23 stops of his own.
The sophomore, who is now 6-1-1 on the year, called it his best game in a Gopher sweater.
Both teams entered the weekend on streaks going in different directions. They exit on their same respective paths.
Minnesota holds the nation’s longest unbeaten streak and has not been beaten at home in 15 games.
“When (things are) going for you, you’ve got to try to put the points in the bank when you can,” Don Lucia said of his team, which sits in first place in the WCHA with 14 points. “The hard thing is in this league is that you can play well and come away with nothing.”
Wisconsin knows that feeling. While they admittedly did not play well Saturday night, they were not necessarily out-played on Sunday, yet went without a point to show for their efforts.
“These things that you go through, they never turn themselves quickly,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “It’s like a big ship in the ocean, it takes time to bring it around.”
Now on a 1-7-0 stretch after opening the season 3-1-2, it is hard for the Badgers not to feel like their ship is taking on water, but they know they just have to keep working.
“You’ve just got to stay persistent with it,” Street said. “Sooner or later those things are going to even out.”
Both Minnesota and Wisconsin will host Michigan and Michigan State in the College Hockey Showcase next weekend.