When he was introduced as Wisconsin’s new head coach last spring, Minnesota native Mike Hastings talked about his long friendship with Gophers coach Bob Motzko. Hastings was gently reminded that in his new job, he would need to beat Motzko’s team from time to time.
The new Badgers boss checked that off his list right away, as Wisconsin rallied from an early deficit for a 5-2 win at top-ranked Minnesota on Thursday in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Mathieu De St. Phalle and Cruz Lucius each scored a pair for Wisconsin (6-1-0 overall, 1-0-0 Big Ten), which has won three in a row. The Badgers got 22 saves from goalie Kyle McClellan for their first win in Minneapolis since February 2021.
The Gophers (3-2-0, 0-1-0) got an early goal from captain Jaxon Nelson and the first career goal from sophomore forward Charlie Strobel, but lost their second consecutive game. Minnesota goalie Justen Close had 29 saves in the loss.
Minnesota grabbed the lead just 15 seconds into the game when Nelson tipped a blue line shot past the Badgers goalie, getting the arena’s packed student section into a festive mood in a hurry. But Wisconsin needed barely a minute, and the game’s first and only power play, to forge a tie.
After a seeing-eye shot from long range by Lucius gave Wisconsin the lead, the visitors took the momentum and tested Close again and again for the rest of the first period and early in the second. But Stobel — whose father won a national championship for the Badgers in 1990 — popped a low shot past the Wisconsin goalie for a 2-2 tie at the midway point of the game.
Then the Gophers had defensive hiccups on back-to-back shifts, leading to a pair of Badgers goals just 62 seconds apart, and the visitors took a two-goal lead into the second intermission.
McClellan, a transfer from Mercyhurst, is looking like the answer in goal for a Wisconsin program that has struggled to find consistent goaltending for some time. He has played every minute in goal for the Badgers this season and stopped Gophers rookie Oliver Moore on a first-period breakaway.
Scratched from the Gophers lineup on Thursday due to injury were defenseman Mike Koster (lower body) and defenseman Max Rud (upper body). Wisconsin was missing forwards Charlie Stramel (lower body) and Owen Lindmark (upper body). Gophers freshman goalie Nathan Airey was in uniform for the first time as a collegian, but did not play.
Minnesota started the season a perfect 16-for-16 on the penalty kill this season, but the streak was snapped just 1:38 into the game via Wisconsin’s first goal, which came with Gophers defenseman Carl Fish in the penalty box.
The Gophers series with Wisconsin concludes on Friday evening with another 8 p.m. puck drop, televised by Big Ten Network.
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