Roll continues with easy home sweep of Duluth

by Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team came into its regular season-ending series with Duluth with one goal in mind: Continue to stay hot.

This was really all the Gophers had to play for this weekend, considering they already had clinched the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular season title – and the No. 1 spot in the first round of next weekend’s playoffs.

But, when you’re on as big a tear as Minnesota’s been on recently – 16-1-1 in its last 18 games coming into the series – that tends to be enough to keep a team interested.

And this weekend, it was.

In a pair of games that were different to say the least, the Gophers came out on top in both, downing the Bulldogs by scores of on 2-0 Saturday and 7-0 on Friday at Mariucci Arena. Minnesota’s past three wins have all come by shutout, including last Saturday’s 4-0 blanking of Alaska-Anchorage.

Top-ranked Minnesota (25-6-5, 20-5-3 WCHA) closes the regular season on a 12-game unbeaten streak (11-0-1) and will face Alaska-Anchorage at Mariucci in the playoffs next weekend.

“It’s almost like we’re going out and getting our business done,” junior forward Ryan Potulny said after Saturday’s win. “That’s almost like what it is. This weekend Ö it would be hard for us to get up for the weekend, but we just came out and got right to business and got things done.”

Potulny has, throughout the season, been a big reason for the Gophers’ successes and that didn’t change against the Bulldogs (9-22-4, 6-18-3 WCHA) on Saturday.

Potulny, considered one of the frontrunners for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, scored both Minnesota goals.

The first occurred at the 10:58 mark of the first period as Potulny took a nice cross-ice pass from linemate freshman forward Ryan Stoa and shot from just outside the crease past Duluth goalie Nate Ziegelmann.

Two and a half periods of uneventful hockey, highlighted only by solid, but not spectacular goaltending by Ziegelmann and Gophers freshman Jeff Frazee, followed before Potulny got his second goal.

The tally, his nation-leading 31st of the season, came as he tucked a backhander into the Bulldog’s empty net with 35 seconds remaining in the contest.

Both of Potulny’s goals were accompanied by chants of “Hobey Baker” from the announced crowd of 10,203.

“You want me to tell you who I voted for for the three best players in our league?” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said when asked about Potulny on Saturday. “He’s one of them (Denver defenseman Matt Carle and Wisconsin goalie Brian Elliott were the other two he mentioned). And the three best players in the nation, they’re all those three.”

Friday’s game was a rare occurrence for Potulny as of late: He didn’t score any goals.

He did pick up a pair of assists, however, and the fact that he didn’t light the lamp was no matter for Minnesota as it got plenty of scoring from other players, namely Stoa and sophomore forward Evan Kaufmann.

Both netted two goals to power the Gophers’ offense.

Minnesota’s defense was just as strong, especially in the first two periods.

The Gophers gave up just one shot on goal in the first period and, at the time of their fifth goal, scored by Kaufmann at 16:19 in the second period, they had allowed only six shots.

“We knew we were getting the (MacNaughton Cup) tonight,” coach Don Lucia said Friday. “And it was nice to play as well as we did and get it in the fashion that you want to receive it. So I really tip my hat off to the guys and how well they played tonight.”

On a night that was both senior night and the night Minnesota officially was crowned WCHA regular-season champions, the Gophers turned in an effort that was almost perfect.

In other words, a typical Minnesota performance – at least, as of late.

“You get out there and it just feels like everything’s kind of bouncing our way right now,” Potulny said.

Frazee out on Friday

Jeff Frazee’s solid performance Saturday – making 27 saves and earning his second shutout in a row – was overshadowed by the fact that Frazee did not dress for Friday’s game because of another unspecified violation of team rules.

Neither Frazee nor Lucia would say what the violation was.

“Of course you want to be there for your team and you want to support them as much as you can,” Frazee said Saturday. “But you definitely have to feel bad and embarrassed.”

This is the second time this has happened to Frazee this season.

He did not make the trip to Houghton, Mich., for the team’s series at Michigan Tech Feb. 10-11 because of a violation that, last week, Frazee attributed to missing classes. Frazee said Saturday the two incidents are not related.

On Friday, Lucia said he’s not overly concerned about Frazee.

“College is a learning process,” Lucia said. “We get them as boys and we want to send them out as men.”