Gophers pick up three crucial conference points over Duluth

Minnesota gave up third period goals in both a Friday tie and Saturday win.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s hockey team certainly helped its efforts to claim home ice advantage in the playoffs – taking three Western Collegiate Hockey Association points from Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.

A 1-1 overtime tie Friday followed by Saturday’s 2-1 win is the team’s second best conference performance this year after a home-and-home sweep over Minnesota State in mid-November.

“We knew we needed to come out of here with three (conference) points,” sophomore forward Mike Carman said. “We can’t keep sliding by with losses and ties every weekend.”

Carman was one of several Gophers who looked good this weekend along with fellow sophomore forward Tony Lucia and freshman goalie Alex Kangas.

Carman, playing in just his second series of the season, matched up well with line-mates sophomore Jay Barriball and freshman Mike Hoeffel, and the latter two assisted on Carman’s game-winner Saturday night – the first goal of the year for the Apple Valley native.

And the trio could have had more points – a possible future blessing for coach Don Lucia, who needs a second scoring line to complement senior Ben Gordon, junior Blake Wheeler and a variety of fillers that included senior Mike Howe this weekend.

Goalies shine in series

Coming into this weekend, Minnesota (12-10-4 overall, 6-8-2 WCHA) looked to be outmatched by Minnesota-Duluth when it came to the crease.

Sophomore Alex Stalock owned a 6-1-5 record at home for the Bulldogs, while no one goalie for Minnesota had risen above the rest.

Coach Lucia settled on Kangas for both games, and the freshman’s performances might have earned him the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

Kangas made 43 saves over the weekend and gave up just a pair of goals – impressing coach Lucia and the rest of the team, which produced just three goals of its own all weekend.

“We gave up two goals in a weekend. We’ll take that anytime,” coach Lucia said. “It’s not often the Gophers score three (goals in a weekend) and get three points.”

Stalock was no worse – stopping 62 of 65 shots on goal. He and the Bulldogs simply came up on the losing end of a fight between two struggling offenses.

Minnesota-Duluth (8-8-6, 6-7-5) struggled to get its offense started both nights – waiting until the third period when necessity set in to open up its game and spread the puck around the ice.

But when they did, the Bulldogs found success – ending Kangas’ shutout hopes late in the game on both nights.

Of the five total goals this weekend, the netminders had little or no chance of stopping any of them – something coach Lucia pointed out after the series.

“Both goalies were sharp,” he said. “You had to work for your goals.”

Lucia gets hot

Usually regarded as a role-player, sophomore forward Tony Lucia has been showing his scoring ability lately, including a first-period goal Saturday to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead.

The freshman has netted three goals in his last five games after pocketing just two in the first 21 games of the season.

Good chemistry with his line and among the team as a whole are responsible for the success Minnesota found this weekend Tony Lucia said.

“It’s good just to get chances, when you’re getting chances that’s when you know you are making plays – having a good game.”