CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — Playing before a sellout crowd of 900-plus fans who arrived at their community rink hours before puck drop — and maybe hours before the teams themselves got there — to tailgate in the parking lot, Minnesota Duluth opened the 2021-22 season with a 4-2 exhibition victory over the Wisconsin Badgers at Chippewa Area Ice Arena Sunday.

A chippy game in the second period — Badgers senior wing Roman Ahcan and Bulldogs junior wing Quinn Olson both received a major penalty and game misconduct at the end of the period after Ahcan ran Olson into the boards at the buzzer, and Olson retaliated — and an intense, tight game in the third period with the Bulldogs up by a single goal, UMD coach Scott Sandelin said his team got what it was looking for from the 288-mile round trip down and up U.S. Highway 53 on Sunday to a city made famous by a family of brewers.

“There was emotion and passion, which is good, because you’re going to see that throughout the rest of the season,” said Sandelin, whose team will open the regular season at 7:07 p.m. Friday at Bemidji State before hosting the Beavers at 7:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena. “It was good to have a little bit of that. There is always some testiness that goes on. I thought it was good for our guys and I’m sure it was good for their guys.”

Freshman forward Carter Loney, true senior defenseman Hunter Lellig and fifth-year senior transfer Casey Gilling out of Miami scored for the Bulldogs in the second period — with true senior wing Tanner Laderoute assisting Lellig and Gilling — while true senior center Jesse Jacques iced the game via an empty-net goal with 2.2 seconds left.

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UMD played all three goaltenders — in a game where official shots and statistics were not kept — with redshirt senior Ben Patt backstopping UMD in a scoreless first period. Junior Ryan Fanti gave up one goal in the second to Badgers junior wing Ryder Donovan of Duluth that tied the game at 1-1 for a mere 24 seconds. Lellig promptly put UMD back up by one, before Gilling pushed the advantage to two heading into the third.

“It was great,” Lellig said of the game. “The atmosphere was great, for one, and then coming in here, too, we wanted to play a fast game, a physical game. They’re a really good hockey team, but we executed well. We like the outcome, obviously.”

Sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal of Cohasset closed out the win for UMD under heavy pressure, getting run over three times early in the third — drawing a minor penalty on one of the hits he took.

The one goal Stejskal surrendered with 12:17 to go in the third period was a controversial one by Wisconsin sophomore wing Sam Stange of nearby Eau Claire. The area kid’s shot appeared to hit the bottom of the crossbar and bounced out, but it was ruled a goal by the Big Ten officiating crew and local goal judge behind the net — no video replay review was available at the home of the Chippewa Youth Hockey Association and North American Hockey League’s Chippewa Steel.

Minnesota Duluth defenseman Jake Rosenbaum (27) is checked by Wisconsin forward Tarek Baker (16) on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena in Chippewa Falls. 
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Jake Rosenbaum (27) is checked by Wisconsin forward Tarek Baker (16) on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena in Chippewa Falls. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

In addition to pulling within one on Stange’s goal, the Badgers went on the power play — one of two advantages in the third for the Badgers that the Bulldogs killed. Both teams finished 0-for-4 on the power play, with Stejskal making two big saves on the final UMD penalty kill that began with 4:18 remaining in the game.

“It got pretty intense,” Jacques said of the third period. “We’re pretty used to that. A lot of us older guys are used to the tight games, holding onto the lead.

“We knew Wisconsin would be a good team — fast, heavy. We were prepared all week, ready for them.”

All of the proceeds from Sunday’s exhibition went toward an endowment fund that helps kids in the Chippewa Falls area play hockey. The event was run by local volunteers, and local sponsors covered all of the costs of the game.

Fans wait to get in line for the Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth men's hockey game on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena in Chippewa Falls. 
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Fans wait to get in line for the Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth men's hockey game on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena in Chippewa Falls. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Both coaches praised the experience and hospitality of the local community for putting on an event that came together in about a month’s time following a temporary waiver granted by the NCAA that allowed NCAA teams to play each other in exhibitions this season.

“Chippewa Falls and the organization here, what they did to get this organized in a really quick turnaround, and to get all these excited hockey fans, it’s been a spectacular event,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “It was two teams that battled like crazy. You wouldn’t think it was the first game.”

“It was great, it was nice to play in front of fans,” Sandelin said. “The building, it’s kind of fun. I haven’t played in a building like this (in a long time). … It was great to see how excited the community was and we’re thankful we got it worked out with Wisconsin to play.”