Sammy Walker couldn’t even lift his arms in the air to celebrate his goal — the Gophers’ seventh Friday — before a stick bonked him in the helmet. Instead of pumping his fists, his glove clutched at his facemask.
To be fair to Wisconsin’s Linus Weissbach, he wasn’t aiming for the Gophers freshman. The winger just happened to skate into the line of fire while Weissbach was committed to bashing his stick against the goal post in frustration.
That interaction pretty much summed up the Gophers’ eventual 9-4 victory against their rival: awkward, chaotic and a little fluky.
“I’ve never had that happen to me before,” Walker said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ I was shocked. That’s all I can say.”
The teams exchanged nine third-period goals, but the Gophers never relinquished their lead Friday at 3M Arena at Mariucci in front of an announced crowd of 8,264. The Gophers improved to 10-10-4 (7-5-3-0 Big Ten) while Wisconsin fell to 8-11-4 (4-5-4-1 Big Ten). The Saturday rematch is sold out.
“We weren’t real good,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “We were opportunistic [Friday]. I know it’s hard to say it when you score nine goals, but territorially, our goaltender kept us in. We were sloppy.”
Wisconsin outshot the Gophers 46-28, forcing a 42-save game from Gophers junior goaltender Mat Robson. The Badgers’ netminders didn’t fare as well, with freshman Daniel Lebedeff replacing junior Jack Berry in the first period after the Gophers took a commanding lead off goals from senior defenseman Jack Sadek, senior winger Tyler Sheehy shorthanded and junior center Rem Pitlick on the power play.
Wisconsin took one goal back late in the second from freshman center Mick Messner. But the real theatrics came in the final period.
The Badgers inched within a goal of the Gophers twice, first from freshman winger Jack Gorniak. Gophers senior center Ryan Norman and sophomore winger Brannon McManus were able to build the lead back to two, though.
But Wisconsin freshman winger Brock Caufield and senior center Seamus Malone weren’t ready to say die, bringing the score to 5-4. Motzko called that the pivotal moment of the game, as if Wisconsin had scored the next goal, he believes the Badgers would have gone on to win.
A too-many-men call gifted the Gophers a power play that senior center Tommy Novak converted with a “monster” goal, as Motzko deemed it. Walker then added his score where he took a smack to the noggin. Senior winger Brent Gates Jr., added one more power-play goal. And Walker notched a second tally for good measure.
The last four goals occurred in the final five minutes of the game.
“At seven [goals] we started to breathe. At eight, we were good,” Motzko said. “That’s how crazy the game was.”
He juggled his lines before and during the game. Freshman winger Nathan Burke was out with an illness, breaking up the red-hot freshman line of Burke, Walker and Blake McLaughlin. Walker moved up with Pitlick and Gates, while Sheehy took up on the second line. Motzko ended up taking Walker off Pitlick’s line in an effort to spread out his team’s two best skaters.
Production-wise, it worked. Walker and Gates amassed three points, Sheehy four. Despite the tumultuous play, Sheehy said putting up nine felt good. “A little bit of an offensive explosion,” he said. “You’re not going to see that every night. But a game like that, you try to run up the score a little bit because emotions are running high.”