CHICAGO – Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves reiterated throughout the week that giving up a home game in scheduling would be worth it for the lifetime experience that members of the Badgers would enjoy against storied rival Minnesota on Sunday inside Soldier Field.
Having coached Wisconsin to two outdoor wins already in his career, Eaves said the moment would be something his players would never forget.
“It’s different,” Eaves said of outdoor hockey. “It’s unique. It’s not just another game in the second half of the season.”
Eaves said it would be a story they’d tell their kids and grandkids about someday.
What a story they’ll someday tell.
In front of the 52,051 fans in attendance for the Hockey City Classic, No. 18 Wisconsin scored three goals in the second period and held off No. 2 Minnesota for a 3-2 victory.
Perhaps riding the emotional high of its 3-2 victory on Friday to open the series, Minnesota came out in the first period and established the early momentum, outshooting Wisconsin 15 to 6 and testing goalie Joel Rumpel early and often.
Rumpel countered with 15 saves, however, and set the stage for what would be a 36-save performance from the sophomore, who was given the game puck afterward by his teammates and coaches.
“His performance in the first period allowed us to get our feet out and underneath us,” Eaves said. “[Then] we rode an explosive period, in terms of goal scoring for us.”
Entering the game averaging 2.24 goals per game, Eaves and the Badgers spoke of how the team needed to get back to simple hockey: Keep the puck deep in the zone, take shots and put the puck on net.
In the second period, Wisconsin (13-10-7, 10-7-7 WCHA) did just that. The Badgers kept it simple, and then scored three goals in just 3 minutes and 19 seconds. It was just the second time all season the team scored three goals in a period, alone.
“I think we threw literally everything we had at them,” John Ramage said. “Shots [from] the corner, shots from anywhere on the ice; we happened to get a couple good bounces and things went in.”
The first score went in at the 13:03 mark of the second period, as freshman Kevin Schulze scored to give Wisconsin the 1-0 lead. The third goal of his career, Schulze took a shot from the point, then watched as it trickled through the pads of Adam Wilcox and across the goal line for the score.
Brendan Woods, skating outside for the first time, channeled his excitement into the first multi-point game of his career, the first of which came on his assist to Schulze for the score.
Woods’ second assist came 1:10 later, as Ramage found the net for Wisconsin. He looped a point shot on net and watched as the puck deflected off a Minnesota defenseman and in to give the Badgers a 2-0 lead at the 14:13 mark of the second period.
Michael Mersch also assisted on the play, skating inside the same stadium located less than 20 miles from his hometown of Park Ridge, Ill., and where his family owns Chicago Bears season tickets.
Representing the state of Wisconsin was Sean Little, Jefferson Dahl and Jake McCabe, as the trio connected for the third score of the period. Taking the feed from Dahl, McCabe put a shot on net which initially was blocked, but Little knocked in the rebound at the 16:22 mark.
Minnesota (20-6-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) began staging a comeback at the 2:36 mark of the third period. After Rumpel made an initial pad save, pinning the puck against the right pipe, Seth Ambroz kept poking at the puck, until finally it bounced over the pad of Rumpel and in for the score.
With 2:19 left in the third period, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia elected to pull goaltender Adam Wilcox to gain the extra attacker. The move paid off as Zach Budish deflected a Nick Bjugstad point shot after Erik Haula won an offensive zone faceoff. That cut Wisconsin’s lead to just one goal with 1:18 to play.
Coming off a career-high 40 saves in the series opener Friday night, Rumpel would make one final save, as he deflected away the last chance from the Gophers. Rumpel finished the series with 76 saves.
Looking to take the script of this season’s story further, the Badgers earned two points in WCHA play. The are four points out of first in the conference and with a two-point cushion for the sixth and final home playoff spot.
“To battle back [Sunday], in this atmosphere, I think it’s going to be huge for us moving forward,” Ramage said. “We’re really looking forward to the end of this season.”