All the talk about the Minnesota Gophers coming into this series with momentum and having turned a corner sure took a hit on Friday night, when the arch-rival Wisconsin Badgers manhandled the Maroon and Gold to the tune of a 6-0 score Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
There was lots of drama leading up to the game. Along with deciding on new line combinations following the Zach Budish season-ending moped accident, Gopher head coach Don Lucia had a goaltender situation on his hands. The team had won three straight ahead of erstwhile backup Kent Patterson, but the Gophers's supposed number one goalie Alex Kangas has languished on the bench during that time. In his previous three games, Kangas had allowed the opposing teams to get off to early leads, surrendering 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 starts before the Gophers could rally for a goal.
Friday: 6-0 Gopher Loss
Lucia went with Kangas on Friday night, hoping to let him shake off the rust and get back to form. Early on in the game, Kangas looked solid, stopping quality shots and keeping the team in it. Solid offensive zone play by Gopher forward Mike Hoeffel led to several chances, but goaltender Scott Gudmandson stopped all nine first period shots the Gophers launched. The visitors got on the board with a late first period tally by Wisconsin's Michael Mersch. That goal would turn out to be all the offense that the Badgers needed.
Wisconsin scored early and often in the second period, with a 1:50 tally by Derek Lee giving the Badgers a two goal lead, followed by goals from Jordy Murray, Michael Mersch and Mark Zengerle to give the Badgers a commanding 5-0 lead. Coach Lucia stuck with Alex Kangas throughout the night, but when it was all said and done a mid-third period goal by Wisconsin's Tyler Barnes gave the Badgers a 6-0 lead, which would be their final margin of victory. Badger goalie Gudmandson recorded the shutout, his first of the season.
Gopher Player of the Game
Tough to pick a player of the game in a 6-0 defeat, but I'm going to give it to Mike Hoeffel. Hoeffel looked good in the game, controlling the puck when he was on the ice and creating offensive chances. The Gophers will certainly need to capitalize on a few more of those chances tonight if they wish to compete with the Badgers.
In the weekend preview, I billed this matchup as a clash of systems. Could Wisconsin's defense-first style stop the Gophers' run-and-gun method of play? Last night's answer was a resounding "YES" Wisconsin was better than Minnesota for nearly the entirety of the game. The Gophers will need to tighten up defensively, something they did such a good job of in the second game of the St. Cloud State series and in the first game of the Colorado College series. The Gophers gave up 38 shots on goal to the Badgers Friday night. That has got to improve tremendously. The Gophers need to take a page from Wisconsin's book and start playing some good defense in front of their goaltender. Hopefully they can do that tonight as Kent Patterson will undoubtedly get the start. Two points and a split is all that the Gophers can hope for at this point. After such a drubbing, I'm guessing Minnesota comes out fired up and seeking a little revenge. Look for a more physical contest, as it seems like these two teams never play each other without a few little scuffles on the ice.