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Lightning strike lifts Gophers in Big Ten hockey opener

MADISON, Wis. -- With winds howling and light snow falling outside the Kohl Center, the Gopher hockey team still produced a lightning strike inside. Ben Brinkman, Rem Pitlick and Ryan Norman all scored for Minnesota in a 74-second span in the sec...

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MADISON, Wis. -- With winds howling and light snow falling outside the Kohl Center, the Gopher hockey team still produced a lightning strike inside.

Ben Brinkman, Rem Pitlick and Ryan Norman all scored for Minnesota in a 74-second span in the second period, erasing a two-goal deficit and lifting the Gophers to a 3-2 win at Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

The Gophers (2-3-1 overall, 1-0-0-0 Big Ten) got 30 saves from Mat Robson -- half of them in the third period -- in snapping a three-game losing streak.

Gophers coach Bob Motzko made it clear this week that a berth in the NCAA tournament, more than a conference title is his primary aim, but for a program that won the first four Big Ten titles before a fifth-place finish last season, this was a step forward.

“We needed a hard-fought victory, and we got one tonight,” Motzko said, crediting his team for being opportunistic in the three-goal rally. “We took advantage of an opportunity. We score the goal and then we get one on the power play. Those were very big positives tonight.”

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Minnesota held the lead in shots and dominated in puck possession on the game’s first power play but emerged down 1-0 after 20 minutes. A fumbled puck in the neutral zone led to a 2-on-1 break for the Badgers and Brock Caufield opened the scoring after a cross-ice pass by Roman Ahcan left Robson with no chance at a save.

The Gophers tested Wisconsin goalie Daniel Lebedeff early in the second as well, and ended up down by a pair after a blocked shot at the blue line produced a 3-on-2 rush by the Badgers. Alone in front of the net after a pass from below the goal line, Wyatt Kalynuk fooled Robson with a rising wrist shot for a 2-0 Wisconsin lead.

The Gophers got on the board, finally, via Brinkman’s first collegiate goal, despite a protest by the home team. Tyler Sheehy was checked into the net by a Badgers defender, and knocked over Lebedeff in the process. With the goalie down, Brinkman popped a long-range shot into the upper half of the net. Because the contact on the goalie was initiated by a Badger, the goal stood, and the Gophers got a power play.

“I think Daniel was probably confused by the fact that a guy was laying on top of him and the next thing he knows, on the scoreboard they’ve got one,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “I think for a freshman goalie, that was probably pretty confusing and probably never happened in his career.”

They needed just 21 seconds to tie the game on Pitlick’s man-advantage goal, and took the lead less than a minute later on Norman’s first of the season from the right side of the net.

“It was good that we showed a little heart tonight,” said Sheehy, the Gophers captain. “We’ve had a couple games where we’ve gone up the first goal and kind of shut down, so it was good to see our group come back firing when we were down.”

Lebedeff was sent to the bench with 1:45 to play, but Wisconsin couldn’t tie the game. He finished with 24 saves for the Badgers (4-5-0, 0-1-0-0). Motzko, who had been concerned about his team taking too many penalties, took some solace in his team killing a quartet of Badger power plays.

“Fortunately, because we’ve had so much practice on it, our penalty kill is getting pretty good,” he said. “We won the special teams battle on the road. How many times do you need to do that to win on the road? Every time.”

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The series concludes Saturday night at 7 p.m.

 

Game Summary

Minnesota 0-3-0-3

Wisconsin 1-1-0-2

First period - 1. WIS, Brock Caufield 2 (Roman Ahcan, Dominick Mersch), 9:37. Penalties - Darian Romanko, MIN (roughing), 3:14; Sean Dhoogie, WIS (roughing), 3:14; Mick Messner, WIS (hooking), 15:11; Blake McLaughlin, MIN (tripping), 18:46.

Second period - 2. WIS, Wyatt Kalynuk 5 (Max Zimmer, Seamus Malone), 4:00. 3. MIN, Ben Brinkman 1 (Jack Sadek, Sampo Ranta), 9:20. 4. MIN, Rem Pitlick 3 (Tyler Sheehy), 9:41 (pp). 5. Ryan Norman 1 (McLaughlin), 10:34. Penalties - Sadek, MIN (interference), 5:48; Ty Emberson, WIS (interference), 9:20; McLaughlin, MIN (interference), 13:59; Garrett Wait, MIN (roughing after the whistle), 19:02; Tyler Inamoto, WIS (roughing after the whistle), 19:02.

Third period - No scoring. Penalties - Ryan Zuhlsdorf, MIN (interference), 8:44; K’Andre Miller, WIS (interference), 11:44.

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Shots on goal - MIN 10-11-6-27; WIS 9-8-15-32. Goalies - Mat Robson, MIN (32 shots-30 saves); Daniel Lebedeff, WIS (27-24). Power plays - MIN 1-of-3; WIS 0-of-4. Referees - Brian Aaron, CJ Beaurline. Linesmen - Nicholas Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky. Att. - 8,965.

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