Huskies forward’s hat trick kills short-staffed Gophers

by David La Vaque

Missing four of his regular forwards to injury, international play and academic dismissal, Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said prior to Friday’s game with St. Cloud State that the Huskies should be fair and remove a few regulars from their lineup.

And while it’s doutbful Lucia would have asked St. Cloud State to sit freshman forward Joe Jensen, it was Jensen’s three goals — including the game-winner with 29 seconds left in regulation — that killed the Gophers.

St. Cloud State beat host Minnesota 4-3 before 10,117 at Mariucci Arena on Friday, a win featuring more plot changes than a mystery novel. Jensen proved to be the sleuth that solved host Minnesota, scoring each of the first three goals of his young career in timely fashion.

“I guess I had the night of my career so far tonight,” Jensen said.

While Jensen and the Huskies (8-7-2, 6-5-2 WCHA) were at full strength, the Gophers were without Barry Tallackson and Gino Guyer who were playing with the U.S. National Team. Captain Grant Potulny remains injured and Dan Welch was released from the team Friday due to academic issues.

Still, Minnesota (11-5-4, 6-3-2) led 2-0 on goals by Brett MacKinnon and Thomas Vanek. But St. Cloud State received a pair of tallies by Jensen to draw even.

On his second goal at 8:23 of the third period, Jensen picked up a deflected pass that came from Brock Hooton at the St. Cloud State goal line and made a deft move to beat Gophers goaltender Travis Weber.

Jake Fleming put host Minnesota back on top at 3-2 with a backhander past a befuddled Jason Montgomery. The Huskies goalie had just stopped a Joey Martin shot with his stick, then his facemask. Dazed momentarily, Montogomery couldn’t get to Fleming’s shot and the Gophers regained the lead less than two mintues after Jensen’s goal.

Like the dogged villian in a teen slasher movie, St. Cloud State kept coming. The Huskies mounted a shorthanded rush that ended with a Derek Eastman shot deflecting off Peter Szabo to light the lamp.

Before Friday, St. Cloud State was 0-3-1 when trailing after two periods this season, but thanks to late-game heroics by Jensen and lapses by the Minnesota defense, the trend was bucked.

“They played better in the third while we began making more mistakes and missed too many scoring chances,” Lucia said.

A face off in Minnesota’s zone produced a scrum near the net. Jensen said he saw the puck in the official’s skates, dug it out and went high to beat Weber. The Gophers pulled Weber, but Jensen’s marker would stand as the game winner.

“Jensen’s one of those guys you don’t need to tell to work harder,” Huskies coach Craig Dahl said. “He works to win those one-on-one battles; I wish we had more of those guys.”

Vanek made the score 2-0 at 13:15 of the second period, roofing a shot over Montgomery for a goal. Vanek’s tally was his 16th of the season, and his seventh in the last seven games.

MacKinnon scored the game’s first goal at 6:38 of the opening period, cashing in on a rebound off a Mike Erickson shot. Montgomery kicked aside Erickson’s attempt, leaving MacKinnon an opening to put his first goal of the year through.

Welch dismissed

minnesota forward Dan Welch was released from the team due to academic issues. The junior from Hastings had appeared in 74 games since coming to the program in the 1999-2000 season.

Lucia said Welch could possibly meet the requirements of a University academic contract, but felt it was time both sides went their seperate ways.

“He could have played this series and the next,” Lucia said. “But I didn’t think that would be fair to the guys that worked hard.”

Welch had a history of academic troubles at the University, missing games as a freshman before leaving school in August of 2000. Welch spent a year playing for the Omaha (now River City) Lancers of the United States Hockey League in an attempt to regain his eligibility.

Classroom troubles in the summer of 2001 sent Welch to Normandale Community College for the fall semester that year. Welch re-joined the Gophers after a 17-month hiatus in January of 2002, playing right wing and helping Minnesota to the NCAA championship.