The Minnesota Golden Gophers took the series opener in an upset over the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers on Friday, but officially tied and lost an extra Big Ten point in the shootout on Saturday.
The Gophers used a blistering second period for two goals before Wisconsin answered with two in the third to make for a series tie. Minnesota won 4-1 on Friday and tied 3-3 on Saturday, good for a rebound after a dismal performance against Penn State last weekend.
“A win and a tie is a win,” forward Bryce Brodzinski said. “That was a big win and a tie for us in the standings and hopefully the next time we play them we can do it again.”
Minnesota goaltender Jack LaFontaine was the difference-maker in the two overtime periods. He saved six shots, three of which came on breakaways, to send the game to a shootout.
“He saved me, first off,” forward Blake McLaughlin said. “Praise the lord to that guy, he played outstanding this whole weekend.”
In the shootout period, though, two of Minnesota’s shooters hit the post and Wisconsin’s final shooter, Edina native Max Zimmer, scored to give Wisconsin two points from the game and the weekend as a whole.
The Gophers had a few playmakers show up and make the difference offensively for Minnesota. Most notably, junior Brannon McManus was a force on the ice all night with his linemates. He factored in on two goals, one on the power play and one at even strength, both in the second period.
The first goal was a very clean sequence of passing, with McManus camped out just outside the front of the crease of Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry. He got the puck on a fake shot from the point from defenseman Robbie Stucker and McManus quickly got it right off his tape to McLaughlin, who wristed the puck past Berry for Minnesota’s first lead of the evening.
His second assist came as he and forward Scott Reedy came into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1. McManus smartly kept the puck until the right moment when he snuck it through the Wisconsin defender over to Reedy who took the shot and blasted it by Berry for a 3-1 lead.
“[McManus] is a goal scorer,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “He’s a point guy, when he starts feeling it, he had a good bounce back from last weekend.”
Another smart play from McManus doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. In the first period, Minnesota was defending a power play and McManus was patrolling the middle of the ice. As a pass when from one defender to another, McManus wisely poked his stick out to deflect the puck right to Minnesota forward Sampo Ranta, who was already streaking out of the zone, almost as if to anticipate McManus’ play.
Ranta broke to a near breakaway on the play but was denied by Berry. That chance wasn’t Ranta’s best or only chance on a play like that. He had another shorthanded breakaway chance, only the second time around, he drew a penalty on his way to the net.
Minnesota’s lead coming into the third period disappeared as Wisconsin’s Tarek Baker and K’Andre Miller scored early in the frame to tie the game up at 3-3.
Minnesota has another border battle this weekend against North Dakota for a Thursday-Friday matchup with the opener on Thanksgiving night.
“We’re going to have to expect a bigger beast than Wisconsin,” McLaughlin said. “They’ve been playing really good hockey. … We’ve got to expect a more physical team.”