If the season were to end today, the Badgers would be making their first trip to the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament since 2014. A close weekend split with the Minnesota Golden Gophers bumped them to No. 13 in the national rankings this week.
Game 1: Wisconsin 3, Minnesota 2
With this victory, the Badgers were sitting tied for first place in the Big Ten going into Saturday’s contest.
Despite allowing a goal just 28 seconds into the game, freshman goaltender Jack Berry bounced back to put together a monumental 36-save win. Granato would later comment on the performance, calling Berry “a competitor to be able to put that one behind him.”
Although the Badgers were unable to answer in the first frame, the team exploded in the second with goals from Trent Frederic (3:42), Aidan Cavallini (7:22), and Ryan Wagner (19:04).
With a 3-1 lead heading into the final frame, Berry and the Badgers did not falter. Instead, they turned up the heat, only allowing one goal while fighting off two Gopher power plays.
Coach Granato attributed his team’s success to their internal drive to get the job done. “We battled like crazy,” stated Granato. This win gave the Badgers three points in the Big Ten standings, and entered them into a tie atop the leaderboard with Minnesota.
Game 2: Minnesota 3, Wisconsin 2
With sole leadership of the Big Ten at stake, both teams knew that they were in for a battle in game two of this weekend series.
Once again, the Badgers fell behind early as a result of Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick (8:24) sneaking one past Matt Jurusik, whom got the start over Berry for game two. The Badgers were unable to rebound like in game one, falling behind 2-0 after the first frame.
In the second, captain Luke Kunin (5:18) and Jake Linhart (19:44) tied up the game going into the third. Coach Granato had strong words of praise for Kunin following the game, stating that the sophomore first-round draft pick is “an elite player.”
Unfortunately for the Badgers, they were unable to channel the magic of Friday night’s win. Justin Kloos snuck one past Matt Jurusik with five minutes left in the frame, and the rest is history.
The Badgers currently occupy second place in the Big Ten standings, as they travel to Penn State next weekend to take on the Nittany Lions. With four games remaining before the postseason, the Badgers once again will need to show their capabilities as a team. These next two series will provide invaluable insight into the type of team that this young group truly is. Puck drops at 6 p.m. CT on Friday, and 7 p.m. CT on Saturday.