The Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team swept the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in major upsets Thursday and Friday, extending their win streak to four.
No. 14 Wisconsin blew expectations out of the water, winning 5-2 Thursday night and 3-2 Friday night to sweep No. 1 Minnesota.
Wisconsin continues to break recent records, and a 7-1-0 start in eight games is the Badgers’ best since the 2000-01 season. Their weekend series win against the Gophers sets the tone for the remainder of the season as the Badgers go up to 2-0-0 in the Big Ten and 7-1-0 overall.
The first game started poorly for the Badgers, with the puck finding the Badgers’ net just 15 seconds into the first period. Minnesota’s Jaxon Nelson deflected a long shot from Ryan Chelsey through the legs of Badgers goaltender Kyle McClellan to give the Golden Gophers an early 1-0 lead.
Just after the first minute, Minnesota’s Carl Fish took a minor penalty for hooking. The Badgers capitalized quickly, scoring 30 seconds into the power play. Minnesota goaltender Justen Close kick-saved a long shot from Ben Dexheimer, which Mathieu De St. Phalle promptly scored on the rebound from point-blank range.
The Badgers took the lead to 2-1 halfway through the period as four players posted up in front of the Gophers’ net, creating a screen for Cruz Lucius to wrist it into the net from the point. De St. Phalle got his second point of the period with an assist.
The Badgers controlled most of the second period, although the Gophers tied it 2-2 off of a two-on-two opportunity after Charlie Strobel found the top corner and beat McClellan on his glove side.
The Badgers’ continued pressure paid off as Carson Bantle scored on a two-on-one breakaway alongside Sawyer Scholl with three minutes left in the second period, putting them ahead 3-2.
A minute later, the Badgers extended the lead to 4-2. Ben Dexheimer, with his second assist of the night, wrapped around the net and passed across the crease to De St. Phalle, who one-timed it for his second goal and third point of the night.
The third period was evenly matched as the Badgers worked to protect their two-goal lead.
Lucius scored his second goal with five minutes left to play in the game to increase the score to 5-2. Lucius took a pass from Ben Dexheimer and drove through traffic to the right face-off circle before drawing the puck back and nailing the puck past Close’s pad side.
The Badgers’ first score Friday came 13 minutes in on the power play. Christian Fitzgerald aggressively moved toward the net, attracting the attention of the Minnesota defenseman and allowing him to pass the puck across the slot to a wide-open Simon Tassy, who slotted it into the top corner of the net.
The teams traded opportunities for the rest of the first period, but solid goaltending on both ends of the ice kept the game 1-0.
The Golden Gophers tied it up early in the second period after Aaron Huglen took a screened shot right into the top of the net..
The Badgers took the lead on a power-play goal in the second. Though on even strength, a tired Minnesota line missed the rebound off a shot from Fitzgerald, allowing William Whitelaw to shoot it past Close.
The Badgers maintained their lead through the end of the second period until the Golden Gophers’ Jimmy Clark tied the game at 2-2 early in the third period.
The Badgers struggled to maintain an offensive presence throughout the third period. However, formidable defensive and resilient goaltending combined with great forward vision allowed the Badgers to take a late lead of 3-2 of a pass from Dexheimer.
Quinn Finley took the pass and picked a shot on the Golden Gophers’ net. The rebound took a slight bounce in front of Close, who attempted a poke check to clear the puck. However, Simon Tassy beat him to the puck, sending it through his legs into the net.
With only two-and-a-half minutes to play in the period, the Golden Gophers had no opportunities to come back, and the Badgers completed the sweep.
Badgers won the vital battles to take down No. 1
The Badgers maintained their offensive production against a stellar defense, dispelling questions about offensive consistency following a shutout loss earlier this year against No. 7 University of North Dakota.
Keeping in line with good offensive production, the Badgers went 2-of-5 on the power play against one of the best penalty kill teams in the country. Coming into the series, the Gophers' power kill was 15-of-15. In just five opportunities between the games, the Badgers scored two goals, a day-and-night difference from their power play lines earlier this season.
McClellan continues to impress between the posts, saving 22-of-24 and a season-high 29-of31 shots on goal during Thursday and Friday’s games, respectively. McClellan has put up a .933 save percentage to date this season and has been an invaluable part of the team’s success.
Experienced Badger and alternate captain De St. Phalle dominated the ice in game one and took on the leadership personality expected from a player in his position while posting an impressive 3-point stat line.
What’s more, young players contributed plenty to the Badgers’ weekend sweep and showed there will be a strong future for this team even as names like De St. Phalle’s depart at the end of the season.
Dexheimer, a sophomore, posted four assists between the two nights.Tassy, a Minnesota State transfer and sophomore, put up three points on Saturday alone. Apart from De St. Phalle leading the team with 10 points, four Badgers had seven points and two had six.
This scoring shows a level of depth that will allow the Badgers to defy expectations and stay strong as the season progresses.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.