Badgers Split with Gophers | Division Title Matchup vs. St. Thomas
Last weekend, the Badgers faced off against bitter rival Minnesota in a series to determine WCCHA and Central regional dominance. Both teams came out flying, with plenty of offense and some stellar defense being played on both ends. The Badgers looked to keep the winning streak alive moving into the final two weeks of regular season play.
On Friday night, the Badgers didn't have the start they wanted. The Gophers controlled the game in all facets as the Badgers were outshot in the first period 6-22 with the only goals coming from the Gophers as well. The visitors would take a 0-2 lead into the first intermission where the Badgers looked to reset.
As the second started, the badgers started to find their footing, making the contest more balanced as the period went on. After the Gophers took minor penalties in sequence, the Badgers looked to take advantage of the 5-on-3 powerplay opportunity. Unfortunately, after getting out-hustled on a dumped-in puck, the Gophers offense would strike again on the penalty kill to make it 0-3 halfway through period two. But, the Badgers wouldn't stay scoreless for long as just 25 seconds later, Owen Phelps found the back of the net with a little puck luck to break the shutout and make it 1-3. The Gophers would tack on a few more goals though later in the period and the Badgers would only get one from Jake Feldt ending the second with a score of 2-4 bad guys. JB Vance and Carson Gunderson got the assists on the Badgers first goal, and Gunderson would add to his assists on the Feldt goal as well.
Entering the third in the same hole they were in, the Badgers needed a quick start. However, the Gophers would look for a quick start of their own and hopefully snuff out any chance of a comeback. The Gophers would get one more in the first two minutes of the period to make it 2-5. Ian Barbour would answer off another Gunderson assist to bring it back to a 2 goal game, but it was a little too late. The visitors would net one more with 13 to go in the game and that is where the score would end. Badgers dropped game one by a final of 3-7. Despite giving up 7 goals, Goss had an impressive 46 saves in the effort for the home squad. Shot total was 30-53 in favor of Minnesota.
Looking to flip the script in game two, the Badgers came out ready to play on Saturday morning! With 6:48 gone in the first frame, Travis Kernen would find the back of the net first off a great feed from Dominic Valentini to give the Badgers the opening lead! There were some more chances for both teams but the first period would end with he Badgers winning 1-0.
Ty Bailey kept the ball rolling early in the second off a lucky bouncing puck finding its way into the net for the Badgers making it 2-0! Phelps would grab the assist. Late in the period however, the Gophers would find their first goal of the game with just over 6 to go. 2-1 would be the score heading into the second break.
It was all Gophers early in the third as they would tie the game just :22 into the frame. 7:30 later, they would score again to take a 2-3 lead with just 12 minutes to play. Jake Feldt would score his second of the weekend off a Dane Sjowall pass to tie us back at 3-3 with about 9:30 to go in the game. Both teams would trade chances and both goalies would make some spectacular saves but we would end regulation deadlocked at 3-3.
As the 3-on-3 overtime period commenced, both teams looked poised and ready to pounce given the right chance. Unfortunately, an untimely penalty would send the Badgers to the penalty kill with 3 minutes to go in the overtime period. With their backs against the wall, the Badgers looked to fend off the Gopher power play and hopefully get back to even strength. But, Ian Barbour had other plans - after a great defensive stop, Barbour powered forward up the ice with speed, faking a shot from the left circle before wrapping around the back of the net and scoring the game winner! 4-3 OT win for the good guys! Joe Berg would get his first assist of the year on the play! He also finished the game with 32 saves. Shot totals favored the Badgers in game two 36-35.
This win makes us 18-5-0-1 on the year with a chance to close in on our third 20 win season in a row this weekend against St. Thomas! Currently 11-1 in conference play compared to STU's 10-2 record, the Badgers just need one win this weekend to secure their second SE Division title, their first since 2018! This game also has HUGE ACHA ranking implications as the Tommies are currently ranked #2 in the Central - an autobid to National's spot. We are currently ranked #10 in the Central with the 3-14 seeds going to the Regional Tournament in Chesterfield, MO in late February.
Both games this weekend are season-defining and we would love to see our fans out in droves at the Shell! Game one is Friday 1/27 at 8:30pm and game two is Saturday 1/28 at 11:00am! Hope to see everyone at the rink!