Shameful loss ignites Gophers

Michael Rand

Five minutes after losing 5-2 to St. Cloud State on Friday night, members of the Gophers hockey team were in no mood to talk.
After dressing quickly, the players moved even more swiftly through the narrow tunnel leading from the National Hockey Center’s visitor locker room to the lonely bus parked outside the arena.
As one Minnesota player exited the torturous hallway, he inadvertently pinned a reporter against the wall with his equipment bag. The local journalist struggled for a few seconds before breaking free, allowing both parties to go their separate ways.
That was probably the hardest check thrown by a Gophers player all evening.
Before boarding the bus, a hurried Jason Godbout stopped to give a succinct comment on the game: “That was a complete embarrassment. I’ve never seen a game like this in my three years here.”
Having been so thoroughly dominated in two consecutive games left the Gophers with few answers. They couldn’t point to one area that needed fixing. The power play let them down. Passes constantly rolled off of sticks. The defense had several lapses. Most troubling, however, was the team’s lethargic play. Despite knowing that Friday’s game against the Huskies was one of their biggest of the year, the Gophers came out flat.
The subject of Saturday night’s rematch at Mariucci Arena brought out puzzled looks from Coach Doug Woog. He didn’t know what to anticipate from a team that has looked like both the class and the clown of the WCHA.
“I have no clue what to expect,” Woog said after Friday’s game. “We’ll see how embarrassed they are.”
They were fazed enough to look like a completely different team on Saturday. Displaying newfound emotion and a clearer focus, the Gophers won the crucial series finale, 6-4, to earn a split in the series and stay one point out of first place in the league standings. The Gophers play a pair of road games against last-place Michigan Tech next weekend.
Minnesota played the entire weekend without forward Erik Rasmussen, who sat out because he wasn’t registered for enough classes during the Denver series last weekend. In order to restore his eligibility, he had to sit out this weekend’s games. Goals by six different players Saturday night helped erase the void left by Rasmussen’s absence from the lineup.
Minnesota led 2-1 after one period on goals by Casey Hankinson and Dave Spehar. The Huskies tied the game in the second period, but the Gophers used a three-goal outburst during a five-minute span late in the period to take an insurmountable 5-2 lead going into the third period.
Goaltender Steve DeBus, after allowing a couple of soft goals Friday night, made several saves off of point blank chances to ice the victory.
Some members of the Gophers attributed the turnaround to a brief players-only meeting held Saturday afternoon. They weren’t whipped into a frenzy, but they did begin to treat the situation with more urgency.
“The more we can let the players be the driving force of emotion on the team, the better off we’ll be,” Woog said.
The increased intensity spilled over to other aspects of the Gophers arsenal. Specifically, the three factors that were missing from Friday’s equations were present Saturday.
ù After a nightmarish 1-for-10 performance on the power play Friday night, the Gophers went 3-for-6 with a man advantage on Saturday.
ù The Gophers played a much more physical game, finishing their checks on Huskies players much better in the series finale. Woog said Minnesota looked like “rag dolls that were being dragged around the rink” the previous night.
ù Minnesota’s breakout passes were much sharper, creating more scoring chances and fewer neutral-zone turnovers.
The end result was a win that the Gophers needed badly — in terms of the WCHA standings and for personal pride.
“You play all of these games and come up to one of the biggest games of the year and then you go out and fall on your face,” Hankinson said. “This has gotten to be a big rivalry. We wanted to show where we stand.”

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 0 1 1 — 2
St. Cloud 2 2 1 — 5

First Period: SCS — Best 4 (Stewart, Molin), :24. SCS — Cullen 8 (Paradise) PPG, 11:55.
Second Period: Min — Abrahamson 4 (Pagel, Spehar), 2:24. SCS — M. Parrish 14 (G. Parrish, Molin) PPG, 17:00. SCS — Frisch 1 (Best), 19:57.
Third Period: SCS — Cullen 9 (unassisted) PPG, 13:50. Min — Berg 5 (N. Miller) PPG, 18:51.
A-7,051.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
St. Cloud 1 1 2 — 4
Gophers 2 3 1 — 6

First Period: Min — Hankinson 10 (Crowley, Berg) PPG, 2:16. SCS — Frisch 2 (Klasnick, Maristuen), 5:13. Min — Spehar (Berg), 8:03.
Second Period: SCS — Stewart 4 (DeWolf), 7:22. Min — Pagel 4 (Kraft, N. Miller), 11:51. Min — Clymer 2 (Berg, Hankinson) PPG, 15:34. Min — Smith (Lyons), 16:40.
Third Period: SCS — Paradise 13 (unassisted) SHG, 5:05. Min — Kraft 13 (Crowley, Clymer) PPG, 14:07. SCS — Molin 14 (M. Parrish, Cullen) PPG, 17:49.
A-9,843.