He didn't predict the time or the place, but Bob Motzko knew the challenge was coming.The Gophers men's hockey coach said last week his undefeated team was "going to get punched in the nose one of these nights," and he was eager to see how it reacted.
The top-ranked Gophers put up a fight late in a 3-1 loss at Wisconsin, but Motzko was dismayed by how long it took them to counterpunch.The No. 12 Badgers put them on their heels with a pair of goals by Linus Weissbach and Tarek Baker, while goaltender Robbie Beydoun held the Gophers scoreless until Sampo Ranta's power-play goal at seven minutes, 50 seconds of the third period.
The loss at LaBahn Arena ended the Gophers' season-opening streak at 10 victories, their best start since the 1939-40 season. They had won 12 consecutive games dating to March 6, when they fell to Notre Dame in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
Wisconsin (6-5) withstood a hard Gophers push in the third period to win its first game since Dec. 4. The Badgers were outshot 36-22, including a 17-4 margin in the third. But a strong penalty kill in the final minutes — capped by Owen Lindmark's empty-net goal — sealed the win.
"They had a lot more determination early in the game," Motzko said of the Badgers. "It took us awhile to find it. We weren't bad tonight; we were OK, but in a game like this, we needed to be better than OK.
"We made a couple of mistakes, but the real lesson is, you've got to show up ready to play. It's hard to find in the middle of the game if you didn't come with that fight. We had some guys that had it, but we had too many that didn't."
With no spectators allowed because of the pandemic, the Badgers are playing in 2,200-seat LaBahn Arena, next door to their usual home at the Kohl Center. They had a fully stocked roster for the first time since the season opened in November, after losing players to injuries and positive COVID tests. They were coming off a long layoff, too, after their last scheduled series — Dec. 8-9 at Michigan State — was postponed because of COVID.
It didn't show. From the start, the Badgers met the Gophers' speed and skill with their own, and they seized a 1-0 lead when Weissbach slipped behind the defense to beat goalie Jack LaFontaine at 5:13 of the second period.
Baker, who set up Weissbach's goal with a nice pass, made it 2-0 early in the third. LaFontaine stopped his first shot, but Baker fought his way to the net and punched in the rebound at 1:59.
Gophers forward Ben Meyers said his team didn't play as hard as it should have in the offensive zone, and its breakouts and passing were not crisp or clean enough. It remedied those problems in the third, attempting 28 shots to Wisconsin's four. But only Ranta could beat Beydoun.
The Gophers got a power-play chance with 2:12 remaining, but with LaFontaine pulled for a sixth attacker, Lindmark intercepted an errant pass and scored.
LaFontaine stopped 19 shots as he lost for the first time in 12 starts. Beydoun had 35 saves on 36 shots.
"We knew [a loss] would happen," Meyers said. "If losing a game in January is going to make us a better team, then I'm for it. But I don't think we gave our best effort. We're eager to respond [Sunday]."
• The Star Tribune reporter did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.