Travis Boyd kept a close watch on Wisconsin forward Michael Mersch in the final seconds of regulation Saturday at Mariucci Arena. The attentiveness produced a turnover, a shot and a rebound to give the Gophers a 4-3 victory over rival Wisconsin.
Seth Ambroz knocked in the rebound with 26 seconds left to complete a sweep of the Badgers in the first Big Ten hockey series ever.
Gophers junior forward Kyle Rau added a goal and assist in the victory.
“I was fortunate to be there and find a piece of it and put it in,” Ambroz said. “I was a little surprised because they were skating out and the turnover happened real quick. I just went right to the net. … Our line has been creating turnovers all weekend, so I wasn’t surprised we were able to do another one there at the end.”
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves didn’t even see the play. He was thinking about the next shift and a possible overtime, he admitted. All of a sudden, it was over.
Mersch said he got too comfortable. Instead of chipping the puck out of the Badgers’ zone, he attempted a pass to the middle and Boyd was a step ahead of him.
“I hit some forward on their team and it went into the back of our net. … I didn’t execute at the end of the game. So it’s pretty frustrating for me and my teammates,” said Mersch, who had tied the score with a goal nine minutes earlier.
Execution wasn’t a problem for the No. 1-ranked Gophers (11-2-1, 2-0-0 Big Ten). Gophers coach Don Lucia expected a much tighter game Saturday and was content with how his team responded.
They overcame two deficits and the Badgers’ late push for overtime. They gave up only one power-play chance to the Badgers (4-5-1, 0-2-0). They also held the advantage on faceoff victories, two of which produced goals.
Rau’s quick stick punished Wisconsin throughout the series. The Gophers co-captain won 63 percent of his faceoffs and was responsible for two that led to goals.
The Gophers’ first goal came off a Rau faceoff win he scored himself. He floated across the front of the net and finished the pass from Sam Warning to tie the score 1-1 early in the first period.
The second Rau-inspired goal briefly put the Gophers ahead 3-2 in the third period. Brady Skjei converted a one-timer, with assists from Justin Holl and Rau.
“[Winning faceoffs is] huge because anytime you get started with the puck it’s where you want it to be,” Rau said. “It’s good to get started like that in the first series and get six points under our belt and start rolling. Seth had a great game and a great play at the end there.”
Ambroz continues to torment the Badgers. Dating to last season, he now has six goals in his past four games against them.
“I thought Boyd’s line was really good all weekend long,” Lucia said, referring to the third line with Ambroz and Tom Serratore on the wings. “They were a big reason why we were able to get two wins.”