Posted-February 8th, 2014 1:43 am
MADISON, Wis. – Lost in the ecstasy of the Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s win over Minnesota on Thursday was an observation from head coach Mike Eaves – even in toppling the No. 1 Gophers, he thought his team was capable of playing better. Unfortunately for Minnesota, he was right.
The Badgers (16-8-2, 7-4-1-0 Big Ten) took every shot that Minnesota (19-4-5, 8-2-2-0 Big Ten) had and still came out on top, 2-1, thanks to another sparkling performance by Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) and a game-winning goal by Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.).
“We were a much better team tonight. Things that we didn’t do last night we did,” Eaves said. “We moved our legs, we won more races, and we got to those races and when there was a battle we won more battles. Not all of them, but we won more tonight. We got really fine goaltending and we got some timely goals.”
Kerdiles, in his first series back on the ice since suffering an injury on Jan. 4, put the Badgers ahead for good with 15:27 left in the contest. The sophomore took a feed from Grant Besse (Plymouth, Minn.) inside the blue line and beat Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox from straight-on to give the Badgers a 2-1 edge.
Rumpel and the Wisconsin defense did the rest. The Wisconsin goaltender was spectacular once again, stopping 28 of 29 Minnesota attempts to record the win. The UW defense gave him plenty of help, especially on a night that saw assistant captain Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) ejected for contacting the head of UM’s Kyle Rau.
“(Rumpel was) phenomenal, in all aspects of his game, controlling rebounds, making the first save, playing the puck behind the net,” Besse said. “You can just look at the stats. He’s our backstop back there and he’s a big reason why we came out of here with six points.”
Together, Rumpel and the defense held the Gophers to just two goals in the series – their lowest of the season and a marked improvement from the eight goals Minnesota tallied in Minneapolis.
The win clinched a home sweep of the Gophers, and was Wisconsin’s first sweep of a No. 1 team in exactly 10 years. It was also the 15th Kohl Center win of the year for UW, which is just one win short of the Kohl Center-record 16 set in the 1999-2000 season.
“Winning this series helps us grow to be the team that we want to be at the end of the year,” Eaves said. “If we want to be a team that’s contending for something then we need to win series like this, so it was good growth for us this weekend.”
The Besse-Kerdiles connection clicked from the outset, with the pair combining for the Badgers’ first score of the game with just 20 seconds left in the first period. This time it was Kerdiles who found Besse for the tally, diving to poke the puck away from a Minnesota defender and right to Besse, who finished from the slot.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling. I wouldn’t say I necessarily dreamed about this when I was younger, but obviously coming into this year, I did kind of have this series circled on my calendar a little bit,” Minnesota native Besse said. “I’m just glad we were able to come out of here with two wins.”
The lead wouldn’t last for long, as Wisconsin faced its first adversity of the night after McCabe’s ejection 9:05 into the second period.
The Gophers took advantage when Seth Ambroz punched in a rebound off a shot from the left wing. The power-play goal snapped a string of 26 straight penalty kills for UW and pulled Minnesota into a 1-1 tie with 7:57 to play in the second period.
But on a night where long-time Wisconsin play-by-play announcer Paul Braun dropped the ceremonial first puck, the Badgers would get the final word, courtesy of Kerdiles. The goal claimed UW a home series sweep of the Gophers for the first time since 1999 in front of a Kohl Center-record 15,359 fans in a sold-out building.
“It’s awesome. Just in general, what an event tonight at the Kohl Center. Sold-out crowd. It was awesome to be a part of and a memory everyone on this team will remember forever,” said Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.). “No. 1 team comes in town, we get the sweep. It helps us in the standings, we get six points. It means a lot to us and that’s big for our team and in the locker room it means a lot.”
Wilcox took the loss for the Gophers, allowing two goals on 27 shots. Minnesota finished 1-for-4 on the power play, while Wisconsin came up empty on a single opportunity.
The Badgers hit the road next weekend for a series against Ohio State. The series kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday.