MADISON – Senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion was a first-hand witness to how a quick goal off the opening face-off can dramatically effect the final 59 minutes of a Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry game.
After former Gopher Ryan Stoa scored six seconds into a game last October, killing the Kohl Center’s momentum in a 5-2 Gopher romp, Geoffrion made sure it was Wisconsin’s turn to deliver the decisive blow.
UW’s leading scorer added to his total Friday, scoring the first of his two important goals just 24 seconds into the first period, pushing No.18 Wisconsin to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota in front of 12,508 fans.
“I was even a little nervous before the game for some reason,” Geoffrion said. “I had little butterflies and I could see it in the room before the game. It’s a big rivalry and to get that first goal, everyone relaxes a little bit.”
Ironically, both goals for Geoffrion, his fourth and fifth of the year, were his first two at even strength, but there’s no denying the fact how important they were in the grand scheme of things for Wisconsin (4-2-1, 2-2-1 WCHA).
His first tally occurred when he deflected a Ryan McDonagh centering pass that bounced past goalie Alex Kangas (28 saves) to begin the game while his second – with UW up 2-1 – proved to be the game winner, as Geoffrion received a cross-ice pass between two defenders from freshman Craig Smith and unleashed a shot from the left circle that couldn’t be stopped by Kangas.
Smith – who missed both games last weekend after serving a two-game suspension for a reckless checking from behind penalty against Minnesota State – was elevated to the top line for the first time after replacing a struggling Patrick Johnson.
The results were two assists and gushing smiles from the Nashville Predators, as the NHL franchise own the draft rights to both young forwards.
“Coming back and playing with two seniors (Geoffrion and Andy Bohmbach) was a lot of fun,” Smith said. “(They) are great players to play with.”
Minnesota’s struggling offense wasn’t given much favors. With the Gophers (2-4-1, 2-4-1 WCHA) attempting 30 or fewer shots four times this season, Minnesota managed to get only 18 shots on junior goalie Brett Bennett (16 saves) while UW was credited with 30 blocked shots, a season high.
“Coach Osiecki made a living doing that in the college and pro level,” UW coach Mike Eaves said of Mark Osiecki. “He demands that out of them. Derek Stepan blocked a shot late in the game with his facemask. Put a big old dent in it. When he came back to the bench, the guys were patting him on the back because they know it’s an important part of the game.”
Wisconsin did have its chances to put the Gophers in an even deeper hole in the first period up 1-0, but Smith misfired high on a breakaway attempt and center Derek Stepan couldn’t deflect a bouncing mid-air puck into a wide-open net on a UW power play.
Those missed chanced looked like it was going to cost UW, especially after a turnover led to Minnesota’s tying goal early in the second period.
After UW forward Jordy Murray made the wrong decision in playing the puck instead of backchecking, causing a three-on-one attack for Minnesota, center Jordan Schroeder skated up the right boards, drew Bennett over before passing to Mike Hoeffel, who had an easy tap in on a wide-open net to tie the score at 1:31.
As quickly as Minnesota had momentum off the turnover, the Gophers gave it all back 43 seconds later. With the puck deep in the Minnesota zone, center Patrick White bobbled the puck, allowing Cody Goloubef to scoop it up and backhand the puck on Kangas’ glove side.
“I was just trying to keep the puck in and I got a lucky stick in,” Goloubef said. “I was fortunate that it squeaked through. It really brought the energy back in the building. The fans didn’t have much time to get down.”
Wisconsin was on cruise control until Minnesota broke through on the power play at 8:47 in the third.
Coming into the series 1-for-29 on the man advantage, a shot from the right circle by captain Tony Lucia was deflected in front of the net, where White was credited for knocking in the rebound with five seconds left on the power play.
But just like the response after the Gophers first goal, the Badgers had an answer, as senior tri-captain Ben Street flicked in a perfect pass from senior right winger Michael Davies past Kangas with 1:52 remaining left to stop any hope of a comeback.
“We didn’t have our legs tonight as much as we’ve had in the past,” Geoffrion said. “The third period is always Wisconsin’s third period. I think that was a big one for us because it made it more relaxed.”