Minneapolis, MN – What appeared to be a high scoring game with two goals in the opening 4:15 turned into Wisconsin’s Landon Peterson having a remarkable night. The sophomore goaltender, starting for only the second time this season, made 41 saves Friday as the Badgers tied WCHA and Big Ten rival Minnesota 2-2 at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers got on the board first after a rare Wisconsin defensive breakdown saw redshirt junior captain Zach Budish all alone in front of Peterson. Their lead was short-lived, though. 19 seconds later Badgers junior Michael Mersch scored the first of his two goals when he roofed a rebound past Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox to tie the game at one.
Wilcox, who made 22 saves, wasn’t as tested as his Wisconsin counterpart. He made a few good saves to keep his team tied yet also gave up a lot of rebounds that the Badgers took advantage.
The Gophers regained the lead 48 seconds into the second period following a Frankie Simonelli penalty for tripping Kyle Rau. Solid puck movement between Rau, Nick Bjugstad, Nate Schmidt and Zach Budish resulted in Erik Haula being open for his team-leading sixth goal of the season. However, it was the lone bright spot for a power play that went 1-5 – including two five minute majors – a week following Minnesota scoring 5 power play goals against Alaska-Anchorage.
While Peterson and the Badgers were out-shot 32-15 over the final 40 minutes, they weren’t outscored. Mersch scored his second goal 5:06 into the second when the Gophers were unable to clear the puck out of the zone and a pass by Jake McCabe found him wide open to Wilcox’s left. Minnesota had 8:35 of power play time on two separate 5 minute majors (to Joseph Labate and Tyler Barnes) and multiple opportunities but was unable to get past Peterson.
With the tie, Wisconsin moves to 1-2-2 in the WCHA (1-4-2 overall) while Minnesota is 3-2-2 in conference play (6-2-2 overall).
What I Saw:
-Make no bones about it, this was a rivalry game. There was physical play from the opening whistle and at times it felt like the second game of a series. While both teams had forward lines clicking (Morgan Zulinick-Derek Lee-Michael Mersch for Wisconsin and Nate Condon-Erik Haula-Zach Budish for Minnesota) in the first period, it soon became a game of hits and penalties. The continuous special teams made it harder for both teams to find their groove on even strength, though. By the end of the game, the excellent 5×5 play on both ends was a distant memory.
-Peterson deserves the praise he’ll get from tonight’s performance (and he made 3 or 4 saves that most goalies would love to have their highlight-reel) but don’t overlook Michael Mersch’s contributions. The Park Ridge, Illinois native has been a bright spot for a Wisconsin’s offense missing Mark Zengerle, scoring 6 goals in 7 games. I think a glowing Badgers head coach Mike Eaves summed it up best.
“(Mersch is) playing his best hockey of his college career. The big man is using his body,” Eaves said. “He was really strong on his stick, he protected the well. He got his fanny to the net.”
What I Thought:
-Although I’m not a referee, the Badgers might have gotten a raw deal on both of their two majors. The first appeared to be a late hit by Joseph Labate on Erik Haula that was closer to boarding than a check from behind; even from across the ice.
Barnes’ hit on Tom Serratore was closer – watching it live it looked to me like the Wisconsin junior caught him in the head (which is an automatic game misconduct) – but after seeing further replays it’s hard to say if he just caught him high or in the head. Obviously it’s better for referees to error on the side of caution when dealing with hits to the head, however, the questionable nature compounded with Labate’s game misconduct make it tougher for Badger fans to swallow.
– Minnesota’s secondary scoring is non-existent and that’s beginning to be a problem. It’s hard to say if Sam Warning, who has missed the past six games, being out of the lineup is one of the reasons. But it was a point that head coach Don Lucia brought up after the game, specifically pointing out Christian Isackson as a player who hasn’t gotten on the scoresheet lately. Isackson, who had a chance to end the game in overtime, hasn’t scored since the first goal of the season against Michigan State.
Rather than spread the offense out, 15 of the team’s 33 goals this season have been scored by Erik Haula, Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau.
The Gophers did hit two posts Friday and had a Seth Ambroz goal waved off yet more than anything, they haven’t been able to put everything together. They’ve had series where the power play went well and series where even strength scored but not a series where both succeeded.
What They Said:
-“I’d like to take back one of the early goals. You never want to give up goals in the first five minutes.” –Landon Peterson, focusing on one of the few negatives in a performance that included 41 saves.
-“That’s how they always play. They always have three guys back and block shots. That was basically the game, it was in our hands. I think we had chances but it’s all about executing.” –Erik Haula on Wisconsin’s style of attack.
-“We got to capitalize on those opportunities. Give Wisconsin credit, they blocked a couple shots and they have a penalty kill. We’ve got to bury some of our chances. We had a couple that I think we left out there…10 minutes of power play with no goals is unacceptable“–Zach Budish discussing his thoughts on Minnesota’s power play
-“I’d have to look at the tape. I don’t know how many shots we had. I think we can do a better job taking away the goalie’s eyes.” –Don Lucia, giving his two cents on the Gophers’ power play.
-“We just keep seeming to run into a 50 mile-per-hour wind.” –Mike Eaves on the problems his team has faced this season both on and off the ice.
What They Didn’t Say:
-“Have to watch the video on it…how’s that for a diplomatic answer? I just saved myself $1,000.” –Mike Eaves wisely choosing his words when asked about Wisconsin’s penalties. His answer came off of a long pause and included the fact he requested to talk with WCHA supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd about the penalties his team received.
What Else You Should Know:
-Tom Serratore left the ice in a haze after the hit by Barnes but Lucia said after the game that he passed his baseline concussion test. However, his status for Saturday’s game is unknown.
-With their second straight tie, Minnesota has already exceeded their number of ties from last year. Their only tie last year was November 26th against Michigan State.
-Attendance was announced at 10,027.
-Minnesota and Wisconsin play again Saturday night at 8 p.m. CT on BTN.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate