Hockey rivalry takes uncivil form in series at Wisconsin

Michael Rand

Friday night’s matchup between Minnesota and Wisconsin hardly looked like a contest between two of college hockey’s oldest rivals.
But after the Badgers trudged through the ugly contest and came away with a 3-1 victory in the series opener, the two teams put on a performance much more indicative of years past on Saturday.
The 6-1 Gophers win featured several nice goals and — perhaps more importantly in terms of the rivalry — a myriad of scuffles.
The teams combined for 134 penalty minutes, including 86 in the second period. Minnesota’s Brian LaFleur and Wisconsin’s Luke Gruden received game misconducts late in the second period after their gloves-off, 1930s-style boxing match.
“There were a couple of fights tonight,” Gophers junior Ryan Kraft said after Saturday night’s game. “It definitely wasn’t just a couple of shoving matches.”
Penalties are nothing new to a series between the two teams, and they are also becoming a habit for the Gophers early this season.
Through six games, Minnesota is easily the most penalized team in the WCHA, averaging 40 penalty minutes per game. In comparison, there is no other team in the league averaging more than 26.
DeBus impressive again
Not to beat a point to death, but Gophers goalie Steve DeBus has been nearly flawless this season.
He turned away 48 of 51 Badgers’ shots on the weekend, and he nursed Minnesota’s 2-1 lead in the second period of Saturday night’s game with several spectacular saves. The Gophers later broke the game open, but DeBus’ early play was a major factor in the game’s outcome.
“That was one of my best games of the year,” the junior said. “This one and the first Colorado College game stick out.”
DeBus’ statistics — 3-3 record with a 2.85 goals against average — do not indicate his value to the team so far this season. Aside from his one bad start, a 7-4 loss at Minnesota-Duluth, DeBus hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a game.
“He’s been a real constant for us,” said Gophers coach Doug Woog.
Goon or sniper? Part II
Hard-hitting Bill Kohn took some good-natured teasing from his teammates last weekend at Minnesota-Duluth after shooting wide and missing an empty net.
After Saturday’s game, however, Kohn is the one laughing.
The sophomore scored his first goal as a member of the Gophers, rifling a slap shot past Wisconsin goalie Kirk Daubenspeck to close out the scoring in Minnesota’s 6-1 win.
The Roseville native was all smiles after the game, and Mike Crowley, one of Kohn’s main antagonists from last week, had to ease up.
“So it turns out to be true,” Crowley said matter-of-factly. “Not only is he a goon, but he can snipe the puck, too.”
First goal eludes Spehar
After the Gophers built a five-goal cushion Saturday night, the game turned into a free-skating affair in which seemingly every player on the ice was looking to pocket a goal.
During the final 10 minutes of the game, freshman Dave Spehar had not one, but two breakaway chances.
Two poke-checks — the first by the goaltender and the second by a hustling defenseman — prevented Spehar from getting a shot off on either opportunity.
“I caught some crap from the guys when I went back to the bench,” he said.
Spehar added that he’s not worried about being goal-less through six games.
“I’m feeling better. They didn’t go in tonight, but they will,” he said.
Useless trivia
This is the first time in the Gophers 75-year history that the team has started the season with three consecutive splits.
Minnesota opened the season with two consecutive splits most recently in 1992, but it has never had three in a row.
Slap shots
ù Woog will coach his 500th career game this Saturday when the Gophers host North Dakota. He is 24th all-time among NCAA hockey coaches with 332 wins.
ù Sophomore Reggie Berg and freshman Rico Pagel made their season debuts this weekend. Berg had an assist in Minnesota’s win Saturday night.
ù As part of an ongoing celebration of the 75th year of Gophers hockey, Casey Hankinson will wear No. 75 on Friday night and Nick Checco will don the uniform on Saturday.