Although bitter border-battle rivals, the No.7 Minnesota Gophers and the Wisconsin Badgers could agree on one issue Friday night: both teams still are not used to the new officiating patterns.
With the new four-official rotation in college hockey and referees calling games much closer and pickier than before, the WCHA conference game between the Badgers and Gophers seemed more like a marathon than a sprint.
All things considered, both teams were pleased to a degree to leave the Kohl Center in Madison with a 2-2 tie in front of 13,184 fans Friday night.
“Our league is going to go through some of this stuff (but) it’s not fun coaching the kids on the bench,” said Wisconsin Coach Mike Eaves. “There’s no flow to the game right now. We’ve asked (the officials) to tighten up the calls, they are attempting to do that and some of it has to be on the player’s side and some on the referee’s as to what is going on. It’s a growing process that we have to go through together.”
From the Minnesota (2-0-1 overall, 2-0-1 WCHA) standpoint, the Gophers received some fortuitous bounces that helped them salvage a point.
Down 2-0 late in the second period, junior wing Jay Barriball took a shot on Shane Connelly (34 saves) that Ryan Stoa was able to get a stick on and deflect into the back of the net for the forward’s second goal of the season.
One period later, with the Badgers (0-4-1 overall, 0-2-1 WCHA) trying to kill off the final three minutes and 29 seconds, Wisconsin-native Sam Lofquist found himself in the right position to erase the lead.
Off a shot by center Nico Sacchetti, Connelly was able to block the puck with his right skate, but allowed the puck to bounce right to Lofquist, who buried the puck and celebrated by tugging on his maroon-Gopher jersey in front of a boisterous Kohl Center crowd.
“Once we started getting around net and playing a little bit harder around net, some of the chances started coming,” Lofquist said.
It was a tough pill to swallow for the Wisconsin defense, as the unit’s only two hiccups were on deflected shots.
“Someone is not making it easy for us to get our first win,” Connelly said. “They were doing a good job of getting to net and tipping pucks. The hockey gods aren’t making it easy on us to get our first win. At least a positive is a tie.”
While the positive for Minnesota was throwing bodies at Connelly, the negatives were the Gophers never could find a rhythm or match Wisconsin’s intensity from the start, partially due to the frequent number of penalties.
For the game, Minnesota was whistled for 10 penalties for 20 minutes and Wisconsin was cited for 11 penalties for 22 minutes, none of them of a combative nature.
“I walked off in the first period and I figured the guys were getting it and then the second period was different,” Minnesota Coach Don Lucia said of the 11 combined second-period power plays between the two teams. “I am not saying (the officials) called it different. I am just saying that it felt like the teams were starting to get it and then the parade started. Considering all that, we were probably lucky to get a tie.”
On the Wisconsin side, the pressure applied by the Badgers gave UW the results to show for it as for the fourth time in five games, Wisconsin was the aggressor early and scored the first goal as a result.
With the puck behind the net, senior Tom Gorowsky threaded the needle between two Gophers’ defensemen to a wide-open Podge Turnbull. Instead of shooting, Turnbull skated across goalie Alex Kangas’ front and slipped the puck under Kangas’ pad for the game’s first goal.
Wisconsin doubled its lead a period later when the penalties started flying. In a span of 39 seconds, Minnesota was whistled for three penalties, turning a one-man advantage into a two-man disadvantage.
With all the wide-open ice, sophomore defenseman Brendan Smith had little trouble getting off an uncontested shot, beating Kangas (17 saves) high on his stick side for a 2-0 lead.
For the game, Minnesota went 0-for-10 on the power play while the Badgers went 1-for-9.
“Penalties are always going to disrupt the flow of the game,” said Sacchetti. “We came out with some pretty good jump and as soon as the penalties started coming, it disrupted the whole flow of the game. The whole bench gets messed up with that many penalties. When we’ll get used to (what the officials are calling), I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine.”
With Wisconsin still searching for its elusive first win, the longest the Badgers have opened the season winless since 1988-89, the Badgers have headed into the third period with the lead three times and have come away winless in each attempt.
Even so, with no wins to show on their four-game road trip, Eaves felt that a sloppy tie might be the start of some positive momentum.
“As we said to the boys in the locker room, we played better in Denver and didn’t get any points,” he said. “Tonight we don’t play as well and we got a point. We’ll put it in the barn and come back tomorrow and try to make it a three-point weekend. Maybe this is a sign that the ship is turning around a little bit here.”
Wisconsin and Minnesota will finish off their two-game series tomorrow night at the Kohl Center with a 7 p.m. CDT face-off.