The top-ranked Minnesota men’s hockey team suffered its first WCHA loss and dropped its first road game of the season on Friday night, falling 3-1 to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. The Badgers scored three goals in a 5:38 span in the second period to help freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel earn his fourth win of the season between the pipes.
After playing two intense, fast-paced games in a sweep over North Dakota last weekend, the Gophers and Badgers played a slower opening 20 minutes that featured a total of just ten shots.
With 3:11 to go in the first, UW got the period’s best scoring chance. Tyler Barnes of Wisconsin entered the Minnesota zone and was stopped by UM defenseman Seth Helgeson. Barnes then dished a pass to the late-entering Mark Zengerle, who was stuffed with a great left-pad save by UM’s Kent Patterson on a one-time shot attempt.
Early in the second, Patterson kept the game scoreless again by making a save on a two-on-one by UW’s Keegan Meuer and Sean Little.
The Badgers opened the scoring three and a half minutes later when Zengerle buried a feed by Barnes in front of the Minnesota net on the tail end of another two-on-one opportunity.
Wisconsin added to its lead just 45 seconds later when a shot by Meuer from the near the right half wall in the Minnesota zone deflected off Gopher defenseman Ben Marshall and past Patterson to make it 2-0.
Michael Mersch of the Badgers almost cushioned his team’s lead with another goal on a breakaway with 12:37 left in the period, but the Wisconsin sophomore’s slapshot bid was stopped by Patterson.
Mersch made up for his miss 1:31 later when UW defenseman Justin Schultz sent him in alone again while the Gophers were in the midst of a line change. Mersch deked Patterson to the right and beat the UM goaltender through the five-hole to give the Badgers a three-goal lead.
One minute later, Minnesota senior Jake Hansen came close to cutting the Gopher deficit to two on a chance just outside of the crease in the offensive end, but Wisconsin defender Eric Springer made a stick check that delayed Hansen’s release and the shot was kept out by Rumpel’s right pad.
With 4:51 left in the middle frame, Hansen had another scoring opportunity on a two-on-one with sophomore Erik Haula, but Rumpel swallowed up the senior’s blast from the right circle.
Working on a power-play with 69 seconds remaining in the third period, Hansen finally got the Gophers on the board by potting his fourth goal of the year, knocking home a Marshall rebound.
The goal broke Rumpel’s shutout bid, but the Badgers easily held on for a 3-1 victory.
The loss dropped Minnesota to 6-1-0 in the WCHA, but the Gophers will still own a three-point lead in the conference standings entering tomorrow night’s rematch, which starts at 7:30.
UM will look to avoid being swept on the road for the first time since Dec. 3 and 4, 2010 against Minnesota State in the game, which will air on the Big Ten Network.
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The Maroon & Gold have now won seven-straight games and nine of the last 10 contests.
Around the Rink: Connor Reilly
A native of Chanhassen, Minn., Reilly has collected 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 114 career games with the Gophers.