MADISON, Wis. — With hockey blood lines running deep throughout his family tree, freshman Patrick Johnson has all the makings of becoming a great player for the University of Wisconsin.
However, the way he created Wisconsin’s second goal was nothing short of a “miracle on ice.”
With father and Badgers’ great Mark Johnson watching from the stands, Patrick’s quick stick scored the Badgers’ first goal and his quick wit helped score his team’s second goal, as No.16 Wisconsin scored the
final two goals of the game to steal a 2-2 tie from No.17 Minnesota Saturday night.
With Wisconsin (11-10-5, 7-8-3 WCHA) already cutting the Gophers’ lead in half entering the third period, the Badgers were trying to generate any type of offensive firepower, as Minnesota was, at times, outskating the home team.
“Without question they outplayed us at times tonight,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves admitted.
However, with the success Wisconsin has had in the third period, outscoring opponents 37-18 in the final frame, and the hard luck the Gophers have stumbled on in the same frame, it was only fitting that a crazy goal capped a traditionally physical weekend.
With the puck sliding out toward the neutral zone, Johnson quickly got the puck, spun and fired it toward Minnesota goalie Alex Kangas. With an unsuspecting Aaron Bendickson screening Kangas in front of the net, Johnson’s shot nicked Bendickson’s stick, deflecting the puck just enough to get past Kangas.
“I was just in the front giving a little screen,” Bendickson recalled. “I touched it a little bit, but it was a great play by Patty to get the puck to the net so quick. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
The play would have never developed, however, if it wasn’t for defenseman Jamie McBain. Battling with Minnesota forward Jay Barriball for the loose puck, McBain somehow got his skate on the puck, deflecting it away from Barriball and giving Johnson a chance to get the puck in the Minnesota zone.
“It was like a tug-of-war, who was going to gain possession of the puck,” Eaves said. “Patrick moved his feet, supported the puck and we had been talking about getting pucks on net and he just did that. It was a classic one-on-one battle that we happened to win.”
The tie gives both teams a needed boost heading into their final 10 games with Minnesota (12-11-5, 6-9-3 WCHA) in sole possession of fifth place and the Badgers in a tie for fourth-place with Minnesota-Duluth, who travel to Madison next weekend.
“The point (tonight) puts us in position to be tied with (Duluth) and the big picture getting three out of four points, our task this second half is to get as points as many as we can every weekend,” Eaves said. “I am really proud of the kids, because I don’t think we were at our peak tonight.”
From the beginning, however, it looked like Minnesota was going to skate out of Madison with a split.
For a struggling offense lacking the usual playmakers, only scoring more than two goals once in their past five games, the Gophers hardly looked the part through the first 20 minutes Saturday.
The benefactors of two Wisconsin penalties 25 seconds apart, forward Ben Gordon made the home team pay because of its mistakes. Wide open above the right face off dot, Gordon took the pass from assistant captain Derek Peltier and fired a slap shot through Connelly’s legs to give Minnesota the game’s first goal 14 seconds into the two-man advantage.
“It takes the crowd out of the game a little bit,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “The rhythm of the game was going our way at the beginning.”
The Gophers were far from done in period number one, as it was Minnesota’s second line’s turn to deliver. Trailing Ryan Flynn as he brought the puck into the Wisconsin zone, center Mike Carman was able to get behind Kyle Klubertanz and Kyle Turris. Without much hesitation, Flynn centered the pass to Carmen, who buried the puck into the back of the net for his second tally on the season.
It was the first time in the last 12 periods Minnesota scored multiple times in one period.
After a sluggish first period, the Badgers finally gave the sell-out home crowd something to cheer about and extinguish some of their power play woes. With Justin Bostrom in the box for cross checking, the Badgers, with a little luck, cut the deficit in half.
With sophomore Jamie McBain and freshman Podge Turnbull threading two cross-ice passes through heavy traffic, Johnson fired a one-timer that snuck through the five-hole of Kangas for his sixth goal of the season, setting the stage for the Badgers tying goal a period later.
“We have a saying on the bench: ‘bend then don’t break,’” Eaves said. “Like that willow tree in the wind, we don’t want to have to bend very far that we snap off. We didn’t do as good of job shutting them down quicker, but the fact is we didn’t get them as much as we could of because we bent, but did not break.”
Overtime was not without its fair share of fireworks either.
UW’s Shane Connelly had to kick away a shot off the stick of Mike Hoeffel that nearly crossed the goal line and Kangas used every bit of the goal to protect the tie, as three Badger shots missed the back of the net by inches.
In the end, however, it was another chapter in the Gophers’ third-period struggles.
“Those woes continue,” senior Ben Gordon said. “The positives were we played a good game and we’re having trouble scoring goals. But the number of chances we had tonight, they’re bound to start going in.”
“We’re not the same team we were a year ago,” Lucia added, “but we’re certainly good enough to play with anyone. We haven’t been able to get over the hump a lot of times. “Nobody’s feeling sorry for the Gophers, so we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves.”