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Friday, February 23, 2024

Badgers scrape by Golden Gophers in shootout win

The Badgers split the six points on the weekend series, taking one game with a shootout win Saturday and one from Friday’s overtime loss.

The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team beat the No. 9 Minnesota Golden Gophers in a shootout Saturday after a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime

The Badgers found early momentum in the game after Owen Lindmark hit the goal post and Jack Horbach took the rebound to score six minutes into the game. The Badgers lost most of their momentum from there.

Minnesota scored a goal in the second period, but it was called back for goaltender interference after a review showed a Gopher made contact with Badger goaltender Kyle McClellan in his crease. 

Just minutes later, the Gophers equalized. A nightmare-inducing turnover in front of the crease from Badger defenseman Joe Palodichuk allowed Golden Gopher Jaxon Nelson to score. 

“Those are learning moments and they’re understandable. We’re a pretty young group,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Hastings said in a press conference after the game. “When you can win and still learn, which we will from this experience, that's a good thing.”

The Gophers took over momentum in the game from there, hitting the goalposts repeatedly. But McClellan stood his ground, saving 42 of 43 shots on the night.

“We've dealt with some adversity. Dealing with the crowd, the outside noise and a tough Gopher team,” McClellan said after the game. “All that comes together and shows that we don't get lost, and we're gonna keep going. I’d say we're not ever satisfied.”

In the bleeding moments of the third period, the Golden Gophers scored on McClellan, who’d been knocked to the ice seconds before, and the back referee immediately waved off the goal. 

No explanation was given by officials beyond “there’s no goal.” However, it appeared officials judged that McClellan had not had time to get up and reset before the puck went into the net.

The game went to overtime, where the Gophers hit the crossbar again. Still, neither team scored and the game went into a shootout. 

To finish off a spectacular game, McClellan stopped both Minnesota shootout attempts. Quinn Finley and William Whitelaw both scored for the Badgers to send the crowd home happy.

When asked why he chose two freshmen for the shootout, Hastings talked about his trust in both players. Hastings pointed to Finley’s significant offensive impact and USA Hockey experience, and he said Whitelaw gave him no choice but to put him in the shootout. 

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“[Whitelaw] was staring a hole through the back of my head on the bench the whole time in the shootout,” Hastings said. “I was trying to look around but he was looking at me like, ‘Hey, let’s go.’”

The Badgers played in front of a season-high attendance and a sold-out Kohl Center, the first time the team has accomplished this feat since 2019. The previous season attendance record was set Friday.

“This place, because [the fans are in it], makes it special,” Hastings said. “And for anybody to think that they didn't have an impact on tonight's game — this weekend — is crazy.”

Although the NCAA records the game as a tie, the Badgers get two points for the shootout win in Big Ten standings. The Gophers’ overtime win Friday means both teams walk away from the series with three points in Big Ten standings. 

With Saturday’s win, Wisconsin claims the regular season series against Minnesota 3-1 after a sweep earlier this year. The last time they went 3-1 against the Gophers was in the 2020-2021 season.

The Badgers will stay in Madison next weekend to face the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Feb. 9 and 10. Including that two-game series, Wisconsin has eight games left to play in the regular season.

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Ian Wilder

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.

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