A bit of humor got Gophers coach Don Lucia through the week of practice. He waltzed into Wednesday’s media scrum asking the group, “When are we going to get a winning team around here?”
This is the question all of college hockey and Minnesota’s faithful fanbase have been wondering over the past two months, and they will have to keep waiting for an answer. The Gophers gave up a two-goal lead in the third period and settled for a 2-2 tie with Wisconsin on Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
The night got worse when former Minnesota Mr. Hockey Grant Besse beat Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox in the third round of a shootout to give the Badgers the 2-1 shootout victory and an extra point in the Big Ten standings.
Besse, a Benilde-St. Margaret’s product, also scored in regulation for the Badgers (2-12-3, 0-2-1-1). Joel Rumpel finished with 47 saves and stuffed two in the shootout while weathering the Gophers’ 49-20 advantage in shots on goal.
Sam Warning and Hudson Fasching scored the Gophers’ goals, and Wilcox had 18 saves. But the Gophers fell to 10-7-2 overall, 1-2-2-0 in Big Ten and 3-6-2 in their past 11 games.
“What I’m disappointed about is when you’re up by two in the last 10 minutes,” Lucia said. “Today we made a couple big errors and it cost us. … Not sustaining the mental part of it. Physically we were good, we had good energy, we moved the puck. Look at attempted shots, we were 90-something to 30-something, all those things should signal a win.
“But in hockey that’s not always going to be the case so we have to sustain how you’re going to play and not make those errors and give them an opportunity to get back in the game.”
A victory was expected for the Gophers. A bad Wisconsin team came into the weekend having won only twice all season and prone to giving up lopsided scores. For the first 20 minutes, it looked like the Gophers would fulfill expectations by punishing their rival for three points in the Big Ten standings.
The Gophers pumped out a season-high 20 shots on goal in the first period and took an early lead when Sam Warning broke a five-game scoring drought, scoring only his sixth goal of the season. The Gophers defense looked just as good, holding the Badgers to three shots on goal in the period and limiting the miscues that cost the team 11 goals last weekend.
It looked as if the Gophers had solved the problems that led to a 3-6-1 effort over their previous 10 games. Then the tendency to fall short of overachieving caught up with them, and they gave up two goals late in the third period.
“Quite frankly it’s kind of embarrassing. Back-to-back Friday nights where we had a lead in the third period and we can’t close it out. Those are points we need to have,” Gophers senior forward Travis Boyd said. “Both goals we gave up were mental mistakes, but we put  shots on net and we only get two goals, I think we’ve got to finish more. We had plenty of opportunities tonight. We’ve got to bear down. … Right now it stinks, it’s not a good loss.”
Hoping something good would come from drastic change, Lucia “blew up” the lines for the third Big Ten series of the season. He shuffled the combinations throughout the week of practice and settled on four new sets of forwards for Friday night with Boyd skating on the first line with Warning and Fasching.
The move appeared to pay off early. Minnesota built an overwhelming shots advantage while Boyd’s line produced a pair of goals, but the Gophers were unable to finish the job yet again.