MADISON, Wis. — Playing against a Minnesota squad that had allowed a WCHA-fewest 16 goals in 10 prior games this season, Wisconsin forward Mark Zengerle knew his team needed to take advantage of just about every scoring chance they saw against Golden Gophers’ senior goaltender Kent Patterson.
So in the second period when those opportunities came early and often, Zengerle and the Badgers capitalized, scoring three goals on the way to a 3-1 upset victory over top-ranked Minnesota Friday night in front of 11,445 fans at the Kohl Center.
“We did a really good job creating turnovers and making things hard on their goalie (Patterson),” Zengerle said. “But overall, we just really did a good job of playing our game in the neutral zone tonight.”
Wisconsin’s offensive barrage began five-and-a-half minutes into the second period when Tyler Barnes and Zengerle skated in on their second two-on-one chance of the game. With Barnes flying down the left wing, Zengerle raced to the right post just in time to deflect a perfect pass behind Patterson.
“I like to think that (Barnes and I) have pretty good chemistry,” Zengerle said. “We play a pretty similar game with the puck and we both see the ice really well.”
Just 45 seconds later, Wisconsin doubled its lead, when sophomore forward Keegan Meuer came skating in on the right wing. The Madison native unleashed a seemingly innocent shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, but the puck deflected off of Golden Gophers’ freshman defenseman Ben Marshall’s stick and then in over Patterson’s left shoulder.
“Any time you can jump on a team when maybe they’re a little down and shell-shocked it’s real big,” Meuer said. “In our good starts this season, we’ve scored early and our team has really fed off of that momentum.”
Just under five minutes later, Badgers’ sophomore forward Michael Mersch got into the scoring act, capitalizing on his second breakaway chance of the period. Sprung loose on a 100-foot pass by junior defenseman Justin Schultz, Mersch calmly faked a shot and then tucked home a backhand deke between Patterson’s legs.
“In the second period, Michael took his game to another level,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said of Mersch. “We’re starting to see these glimpses of him playing that way. If we can string more of those (glimpses) together, we are going to have a special player.”
Multiple defensive breakdowns torpedoed Minnesota’s chance to stay in the hockey game in the second period. Despite a 12-8 shots advantage during the middle frame, the Golden Gophers hit the locker room in a 3-0 hole.
“In many ways, it was not an emotional game (for our team),” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Most of our mistakes were mental and we had some guys that really fought that tonight.”
The Golden Gophers ended Wisconsin freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel’s shutout bid with just over a minute remaining in the contest. After Marshall’s initial shot, senior forward Jake Hansen slapped home a loose rebound.
“(Wisconsin) has a strong defense,” said Hansen describing why Minnesota struggled offensively. “But we really got away from our systems and just came out tonight with no energy.”
Despite allowing the late goal, Rumpel picked up his fourth win of the season in just his sixth start.
“(Joel) was in control, he was moving well and played big,” Eaves said of Rumpel, who came just 1:09 away from his first career blanking. “I think the trust factor he has with his teammates and with his coaching staff (certainly) went up with this performance.”
Wisconsin (5-5-1, 4-4-1 WCHA) will try to complete the sweep when the teams rematch Saturday night. Meanwhile, Minnesota (9-2-0, 6-1-0) expects a much better effort in the rematch after the school’s first league loss of the season.
“A lot of our young guys have to learn to come to play every night,” Hansen said. “Tomorrow, we will definitely be ready to play.”
Video: Wisconsin forward Keegan Meuer:
Video: Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves:
Video: Minnesota coach Don Lucia:
Video: Minnesota forward Jake Hansen: