Good to the Last Punch

With tempers boiling over and fights breaking out throughout the third period, any question of the hatred and dislike between Wisconsin and Minnesota in this historic rivalry was answered.

MADISON — Certain rivalries in sports are overblown, overhyped and overrated.

Yankees-Red Sox. Ohio State-Michigan. Any so-called rivalry involving the University of Wisconsin football or men's basketball teams, whose players will tell you politely that every opponent is the same to them; responding with "1-0", "Next", and all that jazz.

But when it comes to college hockey, Wisconsin-Minnesota is no such series.

The stat sheets handed out in the postgame media room reveal there were 89 penalty minutes on Saturday Night – 51 for Wisconsin, 38 for Minnesota. That's an unofficial count, however; Kohl Center officials told reporters they're still counting up the penalty minutes after UM's 5-2 victory.

No, seriously. That's not a cheap joke. That's literally what was said.

Why all the penalties? Perhaps WCHA officials are still shifting out of over-protective mode early in the season. Perhaps UW is getting frustrated about playing good hockey for stretches and having zero wins in six games to show for it. Perhaps the game simply featured a three-game deficit in the third period, and hey, it's hockey. That's what happens when the result is essentially set in stone.

Or perhaps Wisconsin players simply don't care for any foe wearing a stick-wielding Gopher on their jersey.

"You never want to lose to Minnesota, we don't like those guys," said senior winger Tom Gorowsky, a native of Lino Lakes, Minn. "But it was just a tough series. We wanted to get a win real bad, especially at home, first weekend. We were determined, not so much frustrated, but we were passionate, we wanted to win. Stuff just kind of happens."

The feeling is mutual in the visitors' dressing room.

"This is why you play sports, for the rivalries like this, no matter who it is, that's what you want," Minnesota captain and center Ryan Stoa said. "You don't want it to get chippy like that, but we don't like them, they don't like us, and when you're losing, you've got to do something to spark your team.

"We definitely won't forget about it, if that's what you're saying," added Stoa, when asked if this kind of stuff lingers throughout the season and offseason alike.

The game was physical throughout the evening, with a few minor scrums mixed in here in there, until a fracas ensued with 10:02 left in the game. 35 penalty minutes were handed out at once, and the highlight altercation included Wisconsin's Ben Grotting and Minnesota's Patrick White throwing fists.

Grotting won the fight, which delighted the 15,237 Wisconsin fans, but it was clear White had no interest in retaliating. As such, Grotting received a five-minute major for fighting and a game disqualification – meaning the junior winger will miss next Friday's game at North Dakota – whereas White just got two minutes for roughing.

While the players on both teams agree on mutual disliking for each other, the coaches had varying perspectives on the fighting nature.

"Call (the rivalry) what you want, I don't think the guy who got in a fight was there to score goals for them," UM coach Don Lucia sniffed. "We've got guys that can do that too. I'm glad Whitey showed composure because we don't need him getting thrown out of the next game, we need him in our lineup."

Lucia finished his interview with: "I don't think fighting belongs in the game. That's me."

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, uh, begged to differ. On Grotting's intentions, at least.

"If you've ever been on the ice when somebody jumps you from behind, grabs your face mask and pulls it off, you've got to have a pretty long fuse not to do something about it," Eaves said. "Ben, in junior hockey, was that kind of player, was a tough player. He took personal offense to that, I just think it shows (his) fight.

"Now he's got to pay the price for it by not being able to play the next game."

To their credit, the Badgers never gave in, twice cutting the lead to two goals and having numerous chances to draw even closer. But it was those hard hits and Grotting's successful fight that seemed to charge up the fans more than anything else, though Eaves differed on that sentiment.

"You take a look at what the crowd did at the end of the game, they were applauding," Eaves said. "They knew the kids played hard. I think that says something, the fact that we played right through the end … didn't matter what the score was, we had things that we needed to work on, and we kept working on those."

Eaves might be getting sick of answering questions about the WCHA's revised penalty-calling policies. When asked if he's ever seen so many penalties called in one series, he drew laughter with his response.

"Yeah, last weekend," Eaves said, referring to UW's two-gamer at Denver, before adding: "No, I'm not trying to be a smart guy … this season, it's been like this. It's going to be like this for a while.

"The players have to get smarter, I think in some cases the referees have to adjust as well, but I think by both adjusting, the game will be better in the end."

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