Ties throw wrench in U hockey playoff plans

Tim Nichols

The Gophers men’s hockey team should have known it was going to be a frustrating weekend when the misfortune started before the puck even dropped.
During player introductions in a darkened National Hockey Center in St. Cloud on Friday, sophomore Matt Leimbek collided with teammate Stuart Senden. Senden’s high ankle sprain sent him to the bench for both games of the series.
The Gophers (10-16-8, 8-11-5 WCHA) and Huskies (14-13-5, 8-12-4) then skated to a pair of unsatisfying ties, 4-4 and 2-2.
“This game seemed to be a replay of seven others,” coach Doug Woog said after the 2-2 Saturday tie. “There is no new context to this game.”
For Minnesota — a team in desperate need of wins for playoff positioning — the ties came as bitter disappointments, especially when the Gophers had a wealth of scoring opportunities in the series, outshooting St. Cloud State 87 to 52.
Woog credited the play of Huskies freshman goaltender Dean Weasler for shutting down the Minnesota offense.
“The goaltending was tremendous,” Woog said. “We had some reasonable chances.”
While the Gophers’ bench was relatively depressed about the pair of ties, St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl was beaming with pride.
The Huskies came into the game with seven players out with injuries, and could only skate three lines against the Gophers’ four.
“I am not frustrated with them at all,” Dahl said. “They’re playing great. They are playing the way they have to. I’m so pleased with our character. I just can’t say enough about this team.”
While Dahl couldn’t stop patting his team on the back, the Gophers could do nothing but kick themselves in the butt.
Like it has in so many other series this season, Minnesota was left to ponder what could have been. On Friday, the Gophers surrendered a two-goal lead in the third period when they gave up two goals in 34 seconds.
“When you get 40-some shots, you would like to win,” Woog said. “The power play looked good, but it wasn’t terribly effective. We made a couple of mistakes and we paid dearly for those mistakes.
In the WCHA standings, Minnesota is currently three points back of Wisconsin and Denver for fifth place, the cut-off point for home ice in the playoffs.
With that spot dangling in front of the Gophers like a rabbit in front of a greyhound, the importance of each game becomes greater and greater. But if Minnesota plans on hosting a playoff series, ties won’t cut it anymore.
“Ties are not acceptable,” senior Mike Anderson said. “But we have to find the positive. If we’re going to be in sixth place I’d rather have it be now than two weeks from now.”

SCORING SUMMARIES

Saturday
St. Cloud State 2 0 0 0 — 2
Gophers 1 0 1 0 — 2
FIRST PERIOD: SCSU — Anderson 5 (Goulet 6, McLaughlin 3), 11:54. SCSU — Forbes 2 (McLaughlin 4, Anderson 6), 15:44. Minn — Anderson 7 (Pagel 9, Meyer 3), 18:00.
SECOND PERIOD: No scoring.
THIRD PERIOD:: Minn — Spehar 10 (Westrum 19, Kohn 4), PPG, 3:46.
OVERTIME: No scoring.

Friday
St. Cloud State 1 0 3 0 — 4
Gophers 0 1 3 0 — 4
FIRST PERIOD: SCSU –Arnason 12 (Pudlick 10, Sampair 10), :26.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Westrum 7 (Spehar 16, Berg 21), PPG, 11:08.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — N. Miller 6 (Miskovich 8), :24. Minn — Miskovich 9 (Spehar 17, Westrum 18), 3:06. SCSU — Parrish 6 (Forbes 5, Goulet 5), 3:54. SCSU — DiCasmirro 5 (Arnason 16), 4:30. SCSU — Brooks 4 (McLaughlin 2, Awada 13), 7:10. Minn — Leopold 6 (unassisted).