The first Big Ten hockey victory belongs to the Gophers.
College hockey’s new era in the major conference began with the No. 1-ranked Gophers’ 4-1 win over rival Wisconsin on Friday evening at Mariucci Arena.
Outside of the extra “B1G” insignias on the ice, the difference was almost unnoticeable. Time constraints nixed a ceremonial drop of the first puck. There were no public announcements of the game’s significance. The rivalry remained the focus of the series.
The Big Ten debut was significant to the Gophers, though.
“We were pumped up about [Big Ten hockey], and to play probably our biggest rival of the year in Wisconsin is even better,” Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly said. “We’re the first game to play in the Big Ten and we got the first ‘W,’ too. It will be something special to remember.”
Brothers Mike Reilly and Connor Reilly scored goals for the Gophers (10-2-1). Seth Ambroz scored twice, getting the go-ahead goal at 13:14 in the first period and adding an empty-net goal in the final minutes.
No. 12 Wisconsin (4-4-1) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on Joseph LaBate’s goal. The Gophers responded three minutes later on Mike Reilly’s power-play goal.
The Gophers defense took over from there. It allowed just four shots on goal in the second period and 25 total. Goaltender Adam Wilcox regrouped from last Sunday’s lopsided 6-2 loss to Minnesota Duluth with 24 saves and maintained a one-goal lead for 36 minutes.
Gophers coach Don Lucia was pleased to see his young team respond so well to that defeat.
“It’s something we talked about, getting the first win ever,” Lucia said. “It’s something we stressed during the course of the week, so I’m really happy for us to come out and get the first win in the first game.”
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said it felt like a “typical” rivalry game, nothing more. He was more concerned with how his team would play after two bye weeks in November.
Wisconsin’s effort in the first 20 minutes would tell a lot about how it would respond to the breaks, Eaves said, and the Badgers were able to produce. They scored early but wouldn’t score again.
Wilcox stopped several good chances on Badgers’ power plays in the third period.
Wisconsin started goaltender Landon Peterson, despite Joel Rumpel considered to be back to 100 percent health. Peterson made 41 saves, with the Gophers dominating shots on goal 45-25.
Ambroz was responsible for seven of those shots as the third line of Ambroz, Tom Serratore and Travis Boyd continues to produce since being grouped together. Ambroz felt like his “cheesy” first-period goal helped get the Gophers going.
His go-ahead goal was on a shot from behind the goal which redirected off Peterson’s pads.
Connor Reilly’s goal gave the Gophers a 3-1 cushion midway through the third period. Filling in on the second line for banged-up Taylor Cammarata, Reilly recorded his third goal of the season as the result of an impressive pass fake and angle adjustment on the shot attempt.
“I just want to take full advantage of [the opportunity]. I wasn’t trying to do anything too special,” he said. “I just wanted to do my job and chip in offensively and be strong on the walls in the defensive zone.”
The redshirt freshman might get another chance on Saturday. Cammarata is listed day-to-day.