It has been almost 15 years since the University of Wisconsin-Madison men’s hockey team has sat alone atop the Big Ten Conference standings.
That drought came to an end last weekend, as the No. 11 Badgers (13-7) finished off a sweep of then-No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-5) in Minneapolis, giving them the top spot in the conference headed into the season’s final four weekends.
The Badgers got things started quickly in game one, with leading scorer Cole Caufield finding the back of the net on a breakaway just one minute into the game for an early 1-0 lead.
Both teams held on defensively through the rest of the first period and the first eight minutes of the second, until Minnesota was able to tie things up with a goal from Sammy Walker.
The third period, however, brought a series of rapid-fire goals for Wisconsin, beginning with more action from Caufield. Thirteen minutes into the period, the sophomore forward shot a pass from Linus Weissbach — with Ty Pelton-Byce also on the assist — into the top right corner of the net, allowing Wisconsin to regain the lead at 2-1.
This marked Caufield’s 16th goal and 30th point for this season — he would later add another goal and three assists in game two, bringing him to 17 goals and 33 assists on the year. Caufield now leads the nation in both categories.
Dylan Holloway and Roman Ahcan would add late goals for the Badgers to put them ahead comfortably. The Golden Gophers were never able to respond to those third period goals, allowing Wisconsin to take the 4-1 upset victory.
“It’s a big thing for us to stay in games no matter the score,” Caufield said postgame of the third period flurry. “Obviously when you’re playing Minnesota, the games are going to be pretty tight and you’re gonna have to play the whole 60 minutes. The way we’re closing out games, playing the whole 60 minutes all the way to the end shows the maturing and the drive our team has.”
The Wisconsin defense had themselves another great night, with graduate transfer goaltender Robbie Beydoun leading the way by saving 24 of the 25 shots that came at him. They also successfully defended an intense three-on-five penalty kill in the first period.
Game two was ugly from the jump for the Golden Gophers. Two minutes after the puck dropped, Minnesota center Jaxon Nelson was penalized for boarding Tarek Baker, who was knocked around a lot in this series. The Badgers were able to capitalize quickly when Ahcan knocked Caufield's shot past goalie Jack LaFontaine early in the first.
Wisconsin, which has one of the best power plays in the country at 31.1%, took advantage again when Holloway scored off a pass from Caufield putting the Badgers up 2-0. After a Minnesota goal narrowed the gap, Ty Emberson found the back of the net for the Badgers to put them comfortably in front for good.
“That was a satisfying win,” said Emberson. “It was a very good team win to come into Mariucci and display what we’ve been working on all year.”
Wisconsin would score eight goals in total in the route of the Gophers from six different players: Ahcan (2), Holloway, Emberson (2), Pelton-Bryce, Jack Gorniak and Caufield.
This was Wisconsin’s first sweep of the Gophers since 2009, and the most goals scored for the Badgers in any road game in recent school history.
“It feels awesome,” Ahcan said after the rout in Minneapolis. “Guys are hot right now.”
The Badgers have now won their last four games and seven of their last eight since coming back after the season break.
“Of course it’s great to beat teams that you’re competitive with,” coach Tony Granato said of Saturday’s win. “In all sports, Minnesota-Wisconsin is a tremendous rivalry. But this is no different than any other win. We’ve got a heck of a conference to battle through.”
The Badgers will again be on the road for their next series against the Michigan Wolverines when they head to Ann Arbor. The Badgers were outclassed the last time they played Michigan but were not at full strength.