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No motivational speeches required as Gophers host Wisconsin to close first-half schedule

Back home again after six consecutive road games, the Minnesota Gophers are playing penalty-free hockey as they face a Wisconsin Badgers team that started the season slowly but has won five of six.

Wisconsin vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers forward Bryce Brodzinski worked the puck past Wisconsin defender Anthony Kehrer during a shutout win over the Badgers on Friday, February 25, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Amid all of the impressive renovations at Munn Ice Arena that the Minnesota Gophers got to see last weekend, there is one part of the rink they didn’t visit while getting a sweep at Michigan State. The penalty box.

It has been more than three full games since a Gopher has spend two minutes or less in solitary confinement, although coach Bob Motzko gave a sly smile when asked about his team’s run of more than 200 minutes without a minor, noting that midway through the Black Friday win at Arizona State was the last time they’ve been called for a penalty, but not necessarily the last time they’ve committed a penalty.

“Our team is normally pretty disciplined. We’re striving for that,” Motzko said following the team’s Wednesday practice, back on the big ice sheet of 3M Arena at Mariucci after six consecutive road games. “It’s simple: play with your stick down, take short shifts and wrap your arms when you get someone from behind. If you do that, you’re going to be in a good spot. I like that trend.”

Still, it’s not like the team has stopped practicing special teams, knowing that the intensity, and the whistles, but very well ramp up with conference archrival Wisconsin visiting the Twin Cities this weekend for the final series both teams will play before Christmas.

Wisconsin got off to a rough 0-6-0 start in Big Ten play, but has gained some confidence recently, sweeping a pair of nonconference series and splitting with Michigan last weekend in Madison. Badgers coach Tony Granato admitted that no matter where the teams are in the standings, you generally don’t need to do much motivational speaking before a Border Battle game.

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“Minnesota versus Wisconsin, we could play them on Lake Mendota and it would be the same type of environment and same type of meaning for both teams,” Granato said, referencing the body of water on the north side of the UW campus. “We’ve always been excited when we play Minnesota. So it really doesn’t matter standing-wise where we’re at or where they’re at. It’s Minnesota versus Wisconsin. That’s the opportunity for us to go and finish strong before the Christmas break and before finals against a great team. They’re playing as well as I’ve seen them play in the past few years.”

Gophers vs Penn State_0793.jpg
Minnesota Gophers goaltender Justen Close (1) is introduced before the start of the game against Penn State Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

One of the Gophers who seems to be playing his best hockey, senior goalie Justen Close, was the Big Ten’s player of the week after blanking the Spartans for five of the six periods they played. For the first two years of their college careers, Close and Jared Moe were the understudies to Jack LaFontaine. Moe is now Wisconsin’s starter, and Close has taken over the Gophers net. Close admitted that he enjoys crossing paths with his former teammate, but once the puck drops, Moe is just another guy wearing red.

“I look forward to seeing him, but once we get on the ice, we’re both competitors and there won’t be too much time to chit-chat then,” Close said.

READ MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
Minnesota has lost 6 straight games, one behind the 7 consecutive defeats Richard Pitino’s last team at Minnesota suffered in February-March 2021.
The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall.
Center Trey Thompson broke his nose at Northwestern but plans to play Wednesday vs. Rutgers
And why shouldn’t she? Indiana brings a 20-1 record and No. 4 national ranking into Wednesday’s game at the Barn
The Gophers (9-12 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) led only once, 2-0, on a layup by Rose Micheaux in the game’s first 16 seconds.
Trailing in the second period, the Minnesota Gophers got solid goaltending and woke up offensively to sweep their weekend series versus visiting Michigan State.
After an 81-61 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Minnesota is 1-9 in Big Ten play with 10 games remaining
It took only nine ticks of the clock for Minnesota Gophers rookie Logan Cooley to give his team a lead, and that was just the beginning of their dominance of the Spartans on Friday.
Junior wing who led Minnesota in scoring last season has struggled offensively at times this season
With two more players unavailable Wednesday, the Gophers had roughly half that roster max against Indiana at Williams Arena.
Minnesota is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, making a woeful 59.3% this year to rank 352 out of 352 Division I programs.
Minnesota gave itself ‘a chance,’ coach Ben Johnson said, but foul trouble for leading scorer Dawson Garcia was an issue

Weekend details

The games versus Wisconsin face off at 8 p.m. CT on Friday and 6 p.m. CT Saturday at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Friday’s game will be televised by Big Ten Network with Jason Ross Jr. and former Gophers forward Ben Clymer calling the game. The Saturday rematch will be carried by Bally Sports North with Sam Ekstrom and Clymer on the broadcast.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.

Two promotions of note for the weekend series: Friday’s game is a Gold Out, with all fans encouraged to wear gold, and the first 1,500 students in the door will receive free gold pom-poms. The school will also recognize first responders in attendance. On Saturday, there will be a teddy bear toss immediately following the game. All teddy bears will be donated to Masonic Children’s Hospital . Also, the first 1,000 fans entering the rink on Saturday will receive a ceramic Gophers hockey coffee mug.

The Gophers are 178-100-24 all-time versus the Badgers with their first series coming a century ago in Madison. On Jan. 20-21, 1922, the Gophers won 3-0 and 3-1 on the road in their inaugural games versus Wisconsin. In more recent history, the Gophers have won four of their past five meetings with the Badgers.

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Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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