Gophers barely escape a third winless weekend

After dropping a 3-2 overtime loss Friday, Minnesota snagged a 3-1 home win Saturday.

by Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s hockey team was able to avoid its third straight weekend without a win this Saturday to split a two-game series with Michigan Tech.

The Gophers dropped a 3-2 overtime contest in Friday’s opener before taking the series finale 3-1 on Saturday.

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North dakota
what: Men’s hockey
when: 7:37 p.m., Friday
where: Grand Forks, N.D.

Friday’s win snapped the Huskies’ own five-game winless skid, but the split still didn’t satisfy Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell.

“No way, you get Friday night’s win and you’ve got two (conference) points in your back pocket Ö you have to find a way to win (Saturday). If you want home ice in the playoffs, there is no way you can be content with a split,” Russell said. “You win Friday night, you better put the pedal to the metal and come out of here with four (Western Collegiate Hockey Association points).”

It sounds odd, but a pair of Huskies penalties played a prominent role in the split.

Friday night, freshman forward Jordan Baker laid a game-saving, check-from-behind on Minnesota senior forward Evan Kaufmann in front of the Huskies’ net during the final minute of regulation.

Baker’s offense likely kept the game alive, and just over a minute into overtime, Michigan Tech was able to complete the comeback.

But the Huskies (6-7-1 overall, 5-6-1 WCHA) weren’t so lucky Saturday when junior forward Malcolm Gwilliam was also called for checking from behind in the first period and given a game misconduct and a five-minute major.

The early ejection forced Russell to adjust his lines without one of his top contributors.

Even though penalties played a prominent role in both games, neither team found much success on the advantage.

Minnesota (8-7-1, 4-6-0 WCHA) went 1-for-9 on the power play while Michigan Tech was blanked on all nine of its chances.

Howe sweet it is

Senior forward Mike Howe led the Gophers with a pair of goals Saturday night including the eventual game-winner.

Howe had just one goal on the season coming into the series, but his performance this weekend proved he is back to form after suffering a head injury last month.

“Everybody from the defensemen on down to the fourth line played hard tonight, and that’s what we need to be able to win in the WCHA,” Howe said. “So far we haven’t been able to put together a three period game. I think (Saturday) we did that, and it showed on the scoreboard.”

Sophomore forward Kyle Okposo added an insurance goal in the third period to seal the win Saturday.

Juggling the lines

While the forward lines have been the primary concern for Minnesota coach Don Lucia this year, this weekend it was the defense that required attention.

“We made a decision because we had some guys dinged back on the blue line to dress seven (defensemen),” Lucia said. “We didn’t know if some of the guys would be able to play tonight.”

To help out the ailing defense, Lucia dressed sophomore defenseman Brian Schack as a seventh and extra defenseman while freshman forward Drew Fisher was scratched for Saturday’s game.

With Fisher out, the Gophers only had three full lines of forwards with Okposo and junior forward Blake Wheeler skating double shifts between Howe and fellow senior forward Tom Pohl on the makeshift fourth line.

Lucia was very pleased with the latter two’s performances.

“It was nice to see those seniors play as well as they did tonight,” Lucia said.

Friday night mayhem

When the Gophers received goals from Wheeler and junior forward Ryan Flynn in the first 10 minutes of Friday’s game, the general consensus was that the team had rediscovered its offensive flair.

Unfortunately, Minnesota would be held scoreless for the last 50 minutes of regulation and all 1:14 of the overtime period, while three Huskies recorded their first goals of the season to come from behind and get the win.

Huskies junior forward Alex Gagne got the game-winner when his overtime shot took a funny bounce off the ice and slid past freshman Alex Kangas in goal.

Meanwhile, freshman defenseman Deron Cousens and junior defenseman John Schwarz each recorded their first career goals to tie the game and send it to overtime.