Hockey team undefeated after taking three points from Alaska-Anchorage

by David La

Whether talking about the two standings points Minnesota earned in beating Alaska-Anchorage Friday, or the one point earned in Saturday’s tie, it all revolves around the point: The Gophers proved themselves a third period team.
Third period goals by senior Matt Leimbek and freshman Troy Riddle allowed Minnesota to force a 3-3 stalemate on Saturday.
Senior captain Erik Westrum scored a power-play goal late in the final stanza Friday, giving the Gophers a 2-1 win.
Conversely, the Seawolves scored no third-period goals during the weekend.
“A lot of games in our league come down to who wins the third period,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.
In Saturday’s game, Alaska-Anchorage sprinted to a 3-0 lead behind two goals from wing Gregg Zaporzan and one from center Steve Cygan.
Though they out shot the Seawolves 28-12 through two periods, the Gophers were out-quicked and undisciplined.
“In the first period we had more turnovers than take-outs,” Lucia said. “So that kind of summed it up.”
After watching Alaska-Anchorage’s Corey Hessler take Westrum to the ice on a blatant hooking penalty, Grant Potulny came over to retaliate, getting whistled for a high stick in the process.
Potulny’s actions negated a power-play opportunity for Minnesota, and drew Lucia’s ire. Potulny did not return to the bench after the second period.
“He took that penalty and I was tired of it,” Lucia said. “He took a shower.”
The benching of Potulny and subsequent promotion of Leimbek from the fourth line provided the Gophers a much-needed spark.
“I got an opportunity to get up there and play with those guys;” Leimbek said. “I took advantage of it.”
After 30 fruitless shots, Leimbek’s backhand got past Seawolves goaltender Chris King, allowing Minnesota to finally light the lamp.
Five minutes later, Leimbek slid another shot past King, cutting Minnesota’s deficit to one.
Riddle knotted the game on a shorthanded breakaway, finished off by some flashy stickwork and a backhand flip past the bewildered King.
The Gophers played a decidedly tentative overtime period, posting only two shots on goal.
“When we get into overtime, we have to come away with a point,” Lucia said.
Last season, the Gophers were a combined 3-19-0 when tied or trailing an opponent after two periods. This season, their record is 2-0-1 thanks to a 15-5 scoring advantage in the third period.
These numbers reflect a renewed team confidence and resolve. Westrum (Apple Valley) and teammate Dylan Mills (Duluth East) even related the feeling to their high school days, when both played for Minnesota state champions.
“We had a feeling during the third period that no matter what happened we were going to win that game somehow,” Mills said Friday.
Friday’s game was a tightly played, low-scoring affair. Tension and frustration built as the teams traded possessions and near-misses, culminating with a Westrum slashing penalty in the third.
Westrum admitted the penalty — which occurred behind the play — was “stupid”, and looked on from the box as his team fought off the Seawolves man advantage.
Alaska-Anchorage incurred its second penalty of the game shortly thereafter, restoring momentum to Minnesota’s bench.
“When they didn’t score on their power play, I thought, `OK, now its our turn,'” Lucia said.
The Gophers potent power-play unit, led by Westrum, took the ice. Short, precise passes streaked through the Alaska-Anchorage zone before Westrum, “redeemed himself as only he can do by scoring the game-winning goal,” Lucia said.
Minnesota took a win, a tie and a step forward this weekend, capping a mild October schedule with solid performances in two character-building games.
“We could have laid down tonight and took two points out of the weekend,” Leimbek said. “But we battled and got three out of four points.”

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]