The Next Generation Continues the Tradition

In a hockey rivalry that dates back to 1922, the Minnesota-Wisconsin hockey battle is loaded with tradition and physicality. This past weekend, however, it was littered with youthful Badger freshmen, who impacted the outcome.

MADISON - The famous border battle between Wisconsin and Minnesota almost melted the ice on Saturday night as the Badgers tied with the Gophers after an overtime that followed a highly physcial series.

This long lived rivalry between Wisconsin vs. Minnesota dates back to 1922 and is intertwined with history and tradition. It has become more than just a hockey game. For seven young men on Wisconsin's roster Saturday night, the history, tradition and physicality were introduced to them, playing in the notorious clash for the first time.

The Badger team consists of freshman from all over the nation and Canada, unlike Minnesota's pure bred team of mostly Minnesotans. No matter where they are from, however, Gophers are born to dislike the Badgers and vice versa.

Although playing through the rigorous WCHA conference schedule since October, some of the Badger freshmen were unaware of the magnitude of the rivalry between these two schools, which made the past week full of stories from the upperclassmen of the dislike for their neighbors.

"We've been hearing all week from the older guys about how big the rivalry is and how much it meant," Turris said. "The whole week of practice, we were battling hard and make sure we were ready."

Playing in his first home series since being away at the World Juniors and coming from Canada where the border battle was off his radar, Turris soon discovered it's a vital part of Wisconsin hockey.

"I think it was special for all our freshmen," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves about the rivalry. "Even for a man like Kyle Turris, not knowing about the series before he got down here. I remember as an 18-year-old freshman, it was the biggest rivalry. I remember going on the ice at Minnesota and the ferociousness and competiveness, I was like 'Where did this come from?' So I am sure some of our kids were introduced to that tonight, as well."

For Turris' first game against Minnesota, he proved he is a Wisconsin native at heart. Showing a vision on the ice that makes him an above-par hockey player, Turris scored a breakaway goal on Friday night with a Minnesota player draped over his shoulder; a goal that made the Top Ten plays of the day on ESPN.

The legendary contention between Wisconsin and Minnesota brings on a new type of physical play. The boards become battlefields and the place to nudge the opponent a little extra. Cross checking becomes an art form. Roughing and misconduct penalties are not a rarity for the series.

"There was a lot of body contact and extra jawing after the whistle," Minnesota senior Ben Gordon said. "It is always a tough, physical series whenever these two teams play with some chippy shots thrown in, but that's what makes it fun and this rivalry exciting."

Tensions were especially high for the series this past weekend with both teams tied in the WCHA standings and needing wins to try and secure home ice in the conference playoffs. With both teams being neck and neck for the post season race in March, the series became more than a fun tradition.

With both teams needing a sweep, it was Wisconsin who came away the successors, earning three points to move into a fourth place tie with Minnesota Duluth, who the Badgers will play in Madison next weekend.

"The point (tonight) puts us in position to be tied with (Duluth) and the big picture getting three out of four points," Eaves said. "Our task this second half is to get as points as many as we can every weekend."

With the history of the series, it only seems appropriate that the first Badger goal of the Saturday evening came from Patrick Johnson. A freshman born and raised in Madison, Johnson understands the rivalry better than anyone. He is a third generation Johnson playing for Wisconsin, as his father, Mark, and grandfather, Bob, both had their moments as Badgers playing against the Gophers.

"I was watching when I was in the stands when I was younger," Patrick said. "I was pretty nervous for Minnesota just because they are Minnesota and our biggest rival."

The rivalry became so heated during the 70s when Patrick Johnson's grandfather, Badger Bob Johnson, was the coach of Wisconsin and Herb Brooks was the coach of Minnesota. At that time, both teams were dominant, winning a combined five National Championships through the 70s. With the winning came the verbal sparring, as it is no secret that Brooks and Badger Bob quarreled with one another over the border wars.

The Kohl Center on Saturday night had an electric feeling in the air unlike any other college hockey coliseum. The badger fans attended in droves and received the show they deserved by a late goal to send the Badgers into overtime by Aaron Bendickson.

Bendickson deflected a perfect shot, made my hometown prodigy Patrick Johnson, into the net. The crowd went wild. The Badgers turned on their best hockey in the last minutes of the game and in overtime.

"Look at this building tonight, it was rocking and the way it erupted when we tied it," Eaves said. "Can you imagine if we had scored (another one)? Games like this become more enjoyable down the stretch."

The Wisconsin hockey team played exceptionally well for the enormous significance of this game. The freshmen stepped up this past weekend, looking like a team of veterans that passed well, put the pucks on net and were sound defensively.

The Badgers will travel to Minnesota for the continuation of the border battle in February, as the campaign forges forward.

For now Wisconsin has earned bragging rights, thanks to a bunch of freshmen new to the rivalry.

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