Men’s hockey struggles on road

Adam Fink

Heading to New Hampshire this weekend, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team wanted to compare itself to another elite team.

A series between the third-ranked Wildcats and their veteran lineup was a challenge coach Don Lucia wanted for his team comprised of 18 underclassmen.

The results were mixed for the top-ranked Gophers.

A mental mistake on a Minnesota power play in the second game led to a New Hampshire short-handed goal and a 3-1 win.

On Friday, the Gophers came back from an early deficit and fought for a tough 5-5 tie.

“I’m encouraged by what I saw this weekend,” Lucia said. “We played against a highly skilled team which had a lot of players returning. Our guys continued to fight until the bitter end, and that’s what you look for with a young team.”

Nathan Martz put New Hampshire (2-0-1) on the board at the 2:59 mark in the first period of Saturday night’s game with a wrist shot over goaltender Travis Weber.

Minnesota (1-1-1) responded with a Troy Riddle goal, tying the game until the Wildcats scored on a short-handed play in the second period.

On the goal, it appeared Weber lost sight of the puck, and the Wildcats’ Lanny Gare scored from just inside the blue line.

Overall, Weber stopped 20 of 23 shots, but it was the play of Wildcats goalie Mike Ayers that made the difference.

Ayers recorded a career-high 44 saves and held tough over the final two periods as the Gophers outshot New Hampshire 31-11.

“We had so many chances, but it’s those little things that make the difference,” sophomore Keith Ballard said.

Like Ayers on Saturday, Gophers goalie Justin Johnson appeared to get stronger as Friday night’s game dragged on.

A high-scoring first period, in which the Gophers Riddle, Paul Martin and Gino Guyer notched goals, left Minnesota trailing 4-3.

The second period was all Gophers. Riddle and Martin scored goals as Minnesota outshot New Hampshire 14-2.

The Wildcats only scored one goal in the third period, mainly due to the play of Johnson.

After the first 20 minutes, Johnson stopped 18 of 19 shots including four in overtime.

“Justin relaxed after the first period and made some big saves to keep us in the game,” Lucia said. “He was probably as nervous as anyone to start. This is a tough place to play.”

While Minnesota’s play over the weekend will cause them to drop in the rankings, the team gained valuable experience to bring into next weekend’s WCHA opener at Michigan Tech.

“We have a young hockey team,” Lucia said. “And as a coaching staff we have to be patient. I’m encouraged by what I saw this weekend.”

Potulny out three months

Captain Grant Potulny will be out longer than expected, as the junior recovers from a broken fibula and ligament damage in his left ankle.

He is expected to be out about three months.

Potulny was injured in the second period of Minnesota’s 7-2 victory over Ohio State on Oct. 12.

“It’s something we have to deal with,” Lucia said. “We don’t have any control over it.”