Remember that 10-0 start to the season by the Gophers men's hockey team, that run that vaulted Minnesota to the top of the Big Ten standings and the national polls?
Well, things have changed quickly, and Wisconsin put that on display with an 8-1 blowout of the Gophers on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
A pair of first-period power-play goals staked Wisconsin to a two-goal lead, and the 11th-ranked Badgers kept pouring it on in handing No. 2 Minnesota its first seven-goal loss since December 1994. By sweeping the Border Battle series — the first game was 4-1 — Wisconsin (13-7, 11-5-1 Big Ten) grabbed the conference lead from Minnesota (15-5, 11-5). The Badgers have 34 points to the Gophers' 33.
"We didn't show up ready to play. Quite frankly, we just didn't compete hard enough,'' said Gophers center Ben Meyers, whose team is 5-5 since that 10-0 start.
Wisconsin certainly competed hard enough, led by Dylan Holloway, who had a goal and four assists Saturday to complete a seven-point weekend. Cole Caufield had a goal and two assists, giving him five points in the series and a nation's-best 17 goals and 33 points. Roman Ahcan and Ty Emberson each scored two goals, and goalie Cameron Rowe made 27 saves.
"That's not a pretty weekend for Gopher hockey,'' coach Bob Motzko said. "… This blindsided us. We've been awful good for most of the year, but Wisconsin came in more determined.''
The loss was the Gophers' third in four meetings against Wisconsin and re-emphasized how their offense has struggled against the other teams in the top four of the Big Ten — the Badgers, Michigan and Notre Dame. Minnesota is 3-5 against that trio, averaging 2.25 goals in those eight games. Against the rest of the Big Ten (Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State) and nonconference opponent Arizona State, the Gophers are 12-0 and average five goals per game.
"We're not going to dissect this down to the bone and think the world's falling. This stings and this hurts,'' Motzko said. "The truth's in the middle, and we've got to get back to that ground quick.''
Two minutes after the puck dropped, Gophers center Jaxon Nelson got a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding Tarek Baker. The Badgers cashed in when Ahcan tipped Caufield's shot past goalie Jack LaFontaine at 5:01.
Wisconsin's power play, ranked second nationally at 29.3% (17-for-58) entering the game, struck again for a 2-0 lead at 8:15, when Holloway converted Caufield's cross-ice pass.
Minnesota got back into the game, briefly, at 14:58, when Meyers buried a pass from Bryce Brodzinski to complete a two-on-one rush that cut Wisconsin's lead to 2-1. The Badgers restored their two-goal lead, 3-1, 1:47 later on Emberson's first goal.
It snowballed in the second, as Ty Pelton-Byce scored 42 seconds into the period, prompting Motzko to pull LaFontaine (four goals on 15 shots) in favor of Jared Moe. Only 32 seconds later, Ahcan made it 5-1 on a sharp-angle shot. Motzko ended up using all three of his goalies, with Justen Close playing the third period.
Afterward, Motzko was adamant that his team learns from the drubbing.
"This doesn't go in the trash,'' he said. "You wear this one.''
The Star Tribune reporter did not attend this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.