Border rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin split their final regular season series against each other as members of the WCHA, with the Gophers picking up a win in Madison on Friday before the Badgers won outdoors on neutral ice in Chicago late Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota opened the weekend well but had to survive a late comeback bid from Wisconsin in the Gophers’ 3-2 win on Friday. Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel was busier than his Gophers counterpart in making 40 saves on the night, but Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox and his teammates had to weather a late storm that included a Tyler Barnes goal with 1:02 remaining that cut the Gophers’ lead to a single goal.
UW then turned the tables on Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field, picking up a 3-2 win of the Badgers’ own in the second game of the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic. The Badgers opened up a 3-0 lead with a trio of goals all in a marvelous second period for UW, but then came Minnesota’s turn to launch a third-period comeback that would fall just short.
Goals in the final frame from Minnesota forwards Seth Ambroz and Zach Budish breathed life into a Gophers squad that looked all over the place at times over the first 40 minutes, but Minnesota couldn’t find an equalizer after Budish’s tally at the 18:18 mark.
Minnesota’s performance outdoors on Sunday also drew comparisons to Nebraska-Omaha’s a week ago against North Dakota. UNO started flat and fell into an early 3-0 hole outside at TD Ameritrade Park on Feb. 9, and, though the Mavericks showed signs of life in the third period and got back into the game at one point, their efforts proved insufficient.
Turning back to the Badgers, just as he had in Madison on Friday, Rumpel came up big again in the UW net Sunday in Chicago. He made 36 saves in the rematch — and was much busier than Wilcox, who recorded 16 — and his save on a shot from Minnesota’s Nate Condon as time ran out sealed the win and a split of the teams’ weekend set.
Other observations from this past weekend’s WCHA action:
Bemidji State snapped the WCHA’s longest winless streak
With Minnesota-Duluth stuck in a rut in which it had lost each of its last five non-exhibition games, Bemidji State couldn’t have picked a better time than last weekend to welcome the Bulldogs to Bemidji, Minn.’s Sanford Center.
UMD has been fading fast in the hunt to finish in the WCHA’s top six and clinch home ice in the first round of the league playoffs, and things got even worse for Duluth in Bemidji. Tenth-place BSU took three points from the Bulldogs on the weekend, including the Beavers’ 4-2 win on Friday.
With the victory, BSU shed the league’s longest winless streak, having not tasted success since defeating current No. 11 Denver in Bemidji back on Dec. 15.
The Beavers and Bulldogs then shared the spoils the following night, as Saturday’s rematch ended in a 1-1 tie.
UMD now holds the league’s longest winless skid at seven and is now five points below the top-six split with four league games remaining. Things may get even worse for the Bulldogs this week when they head a few hours south to face an intrastate rival in the form of second-ranked Minnesota.
UAA condemned to last-place finish in heartbreaking fashion
Alaska-Anchorage has taken more than its fair share of body blows so far this season, but what happened at the end of UAA’s 6-5 overtime loss Saturday at home to Nebraska-Omaha seemed particularly harsh on the Seawolves.
UAA has been playing better hockey lately than it had earlier in the season, and things were looking good early on in Saturday’s game with the Mavericks. After ending UNO goaltender Dayn Belfour’s night early at the 13:56 mark of the second period, the ‘Wolves looked as though they were on course to avenge their 3-0 loss to the Mavericks in Anchorage the previous night.
The hosts’ good fortune on Saturday didn’t even end when Belfour was chased off, though. UAA scored a total of four power play goals on the night — this after getting zero power plays at all the night before — and peppered the UNO net more than enough to pick up two points.
The Seawolves were leaking goals in their own end, though, and UNO, often down by a goal on Saturday and even down two at one point, found a way back into the game in the third period.
Mavericks forward Josh Archibald eventually tied the game at 5-5 at 16:33 on a 6-on-4 power play tally, moments after UNO head coach Dean Blais pulled goaltender John Faulkner for a second extra attacker.
UAA held up well for most of the overtime period, but the hosts couldn’t hold on in the end. Seawolves goaltender Rob Gunderson eventually conceded a sixth goal of the night in the dying moments of the game, with UNO forward Johnnie Searfoss scoring his second goal of the night with 31.2 seconds remaining on the Sullivan Arena clock.
Saturday’s result was a particularly bitter pill for the Seawolves to swallow, as UAA is now cemented at the bottom of the WCHA standings. Anchorage now sits six points behind 11th-place Michigan Tech, and the Seawolves have only one league series — at No. 11 Denver on the final weekend of the regular season — left to go.
As for UNO, in terms of keeping alive its shot at winning the WCHA regular season championship in the Mavericks’ final season in the league, the Mavericks needed their sweep of UAA badly. A bonus arrived for UNO on Sunday, though — fourth-place Minnesota’s loss to Wisconsin in Chicago — and the Mavericks are now only one point behind St. Cloud State at the top of the WCHA tree.