It has been almost 15 years since the University of Wisconsin-Madison men’s hockey team has sat alone atop of the Big Ten Conference standings, but the team ended that drought in a major way last night as they finished a sweep of the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The No. 11 Badgers were dominant in the Border Battle at Mariucci, outscoring the Gophers by an insane 8-1 on Saturday night, and 12-2 over the two game series. The Badgers (13-7, 11-5-1 Big Ten) now sit alone at first place in the Big Ten having scored 28 more goals than any team in the conference. The Badgers have now won their last four games and seven of their last eight since coming back after the season break.
By some stroke of serendipity, both the Badger men’s and women’s hockey teams were traveling to Minneapolis this weekend with a chance to move to the top of the Big Ten. By some stroke of stupidity, neither of the two games were on the Big Ten Network.
Nonetheless, both teams walked away with wins and put themselves in great position to potentially win the Big Ten and contend for the national title.
With the series victory, Wisconsin has moved to 11-5-0 in the Big Ten and 13-7-0 overall. This is by far already the best we’ve seen Wisconsin under head coach Tony Granato after finishing 14-20-2 last season.
The scoring started out quick for the Badgers on Saturday. Two minutes after the puck dropped, Gophers 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 Roman Ahcan knocked Cole Caufield's shot past goalie Jack LaFontaine early in the first.
Wisconsin, who has one of the best power plays in the country at 31.1%, took advantage again when Holloway scored off a pass from Cole Caufield putting the Badgers up 2-0.
It seemed like Minnesota had a chance to get back into the game when Ben Meyers scored on a two-on-one off a pass from Bryce Brodzinski. Wisconsin responded late in the first off a goal from Ty Emberson.
“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.”
Early in the second, captain Ty Pelton-Byce would score and Minnesota would be forced to pull one of the best goalies in the country, Jack LaFontaine, as he allowed four goals on only 15 shots. Roman Ahcan would score again in the second to put the Badgers up 5-1.
Wisconsin scored three more times in the game with seemingly everyone in the lineup ending up with points. To summarize:
-Dylan Holloway had five points (one goal, four assists)
-Cole Caufield had three points (one goal, two assists)
-Ty Emberson had three points (two goals, one assist)
-Roman Achan had two points (two goals)
-Jack Gorniak had two points (one goal, one assist)
-Linus Weissbach had two points (two assists)
-Brock Caufield, Josh Ess and Tyler Inamoto each had one point (one assist)
-Ty Pelton-Byce had one point (one goal)
The best player in college hockey, Cole Caufield, extended his point streak to 12 games with 13 goals and 12 assists over that stretch, leading the country with 17 goals and 33 assists. Pelton-Byce now has points in nine consecutive games on six goals and six assists while Holloway’s enormous five-point night extends his streak to eight games — five goals, 16(!) assists.
“It feels awesome,” Ahcan said after the rout in Minneapolis. “Guys are hot right now.”
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.
“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.”
Wisconsin fans might disagree with Granato about the importance of this victory. This was as dominant of a series sweep as we’ve seen in the country this season and it came against what many considered to be the best team in the country. Minnesota has now gone 5-5 in the last ten games after starting the season on a historic 10-0 run.
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.
The two will face off Saturday, Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. CT and Sunday, Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. Watch Saturday’s game live on Big Ten Network.