MINNEAPOLIS – As one of college hockey’s best rivalries, back-and-forth games are a staple of Wisconsin-Minnesota series. Saturday’s finish was anything but expected, however, as the 12th-ranked Wisconsin men’s hockey team (4-5-1, 0-2-0 B1G) was stunned in the final seconds by No. 1 Minnesota, 4-3.
Seth Ambroz netted the game-winner for the Gophers with just 26 seconds left to play after Wisconsin turned it over in its defensive zone. Ambroz took a feed from Travis Boyd and beat Joel Rumpel to put Minnesota (11-2-1, 2-0-0 B1G) ahead for good nine minutes after Wisconsin broke through with a game-tying score off the stick of Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.)
Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) took a feed from defenseman Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) to the right of Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox. Kerdiles then threaded a pass through traffic and the the goal crease to the stick of Mersch, who then finished in a crowd of Gophers to pull the Badgers even. But ultimately Minnesota just made one more play.
The loss obscures a strong offensive showing for a Wisconsin team that came into the contest with just four goals in their last three games. It nearly matched that output in one period.
Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill) and Kerdiles both found the back of the net for the Badgers in the first period, who took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Both Wisconsin goals featured precision passing, as Mersch threaded the needle across the ice to a wide-open Simonelli on the first goal, while Joe Faust found Morgan Zulinick (Kamloops, British Columbia), who passed it on to Kerdiles for the goal on UW’s second tally.
With the assist on UW’s first goal, Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) reached the 100-assist mark for his career.
Chad Rau scored the Gophers’ lone goal of the opening period off an offensive zone faceoff.
The Gophers would even the score at 2-2 in with a second period goal from Ambroz. The look came off a fluky play, as Zulinick got the puck tangled up in his skates, allowing Tom Serratore to gain possession and find Ambroz, whose first attempt was blocked by Rumpel. But the rebound found its way back to Ambroz, who finished on his second look.
The momentum continued to swing in the Gophers’ direction after they opened the third period with a go-ahead score. Again it came off an offensive zone faceoff, as the puck found Brady Skjei, who ripped a long-range attempt past Rumpel to nose Minnesota ahead, 3-2, with 16:16 to go. That set up the thrilling finish.
Joel Rumpel made 31 saves for the Badgers while taking his first loss of the season in three games. Adam Wilcox stopped 20 of the 23 shots he faced from Wisconsin.
Neither team scored on the power play, with Minnesota going 0-5 and Wisconsin finishing 0-1.
Wisconsin heads back to Madison for a weekend series against Penn State, which will be the first Big Ten home games ever for the Badgers. UW now plays 12 consecutive games at the Kohl Center and will not play another road game until Jan. 31.