Entering the weekend, the Gophers men's hockey team sat at fifth in the Big Ten standings, but by the end of the weekend, following a sweep of the Wisconsin Badgers, Minnesota now sits just one point out of first place as the team enters the last month of the regular season. The team's next three series are all against opponents within a point of the Gophers.
Minnesota scores five unanswered to take the series opener
All season long, head coach Bob Motzko has emphasized starting fast on Fridays. For the second weekend in a row, they did just that, beating the Badgers in Madison, 6-2.
Scott Reedy returned to the line up as projected, but the new line of Sampo Ranta, Ben Meyers and Brannon McManus, that formed in his absence, stayed together. While the new line continued to impress, it wasn't just them as eleven different players from up and down the line up contributed. St. Louis Park native Jonny Sorenson got the Gophers on the board just two minutes after puck drop with assists from Ryan Johnson and Jaxon Nelson. Wisconsin evened it up at 1-1 halfway through the period, and the score remained tied heading into the first intermission.
When Wisconsin was able to take the lead on a power play goal from Ty Pelton-Byce early in the second period, it could've signaled a change in momentum that has so often gone against the Gophers this season. Following the goal, Motzko opted to pull goaltender Jack LaFontaine from the game and replace him with Jared Moe. But unlike past games where the young team may have stumbled, Minnesota righted the ship with five unanswered goals against the last place Badgers. Meyers started things off with a great transition from the defensive zone that allowed him to send the puck cross-ice to McManus, who breezed by the Badgers defense to tie the game 2-2.
From there, the Gophers padded their lead with a goal from Sammy Walker and two from Bryce Brodzinski. Then, McManus and Meyers worked together for another goal to round out the night with six goals. It's the second weekend in a row they have opened the series scoring six goals.
"We were opportunistic tonight," Motzko said. "Every once and a while you have to have a game where your skill guys make some plays and build a lead for you … We’ll take the win for sure."
Gophers win 4-2 to pick up a sweep and its fifth win in a row
Minnesota picked up right where it left off, with Brodzinski continuing his hot streak from the night before. He scored at the 10-minute mark in the first period to put the Gophers up. Yet, much like Friday, the lead wouldn't last for long as Wisconsin's Cole Caufield scored just four minutes later. The Gophers were unable to regain the early lead in the first period, even with a power play opportunity.
However, a second chance on the power play after Wisconsin's Dominick Mersch was called for hooking helped Minnesota build their lead coming back from the first intermission. Meyers was again involved in setting up the play, taking a pass from Robbie Stucker and quickly dishing the puck back to him to gain the primary assist on the 2-1 goal.
The Gophers extended their lead in the final frame, where they netted two more goals from Walker and Reedy to ensure the sweep. Wisconsin added one goal late to bring the score closer but couldn't mount anything else.
“Right from the start, we had every guy going,” Walker said. “It’s a blast … We’re just playing hockey and having fun with it.”
Moe played the entire Saturday game, improving his record to 6-4-1 and making 25 saves on 27 shots.
Minnesota is now one point out of first place in the Big Ten, sitting in a three-way tie for third with Notre Dame and Michigan State, who will be in town next weekend to face the Gophers on Friday and Saturday night.