Lost trip to Duluth results in just one tie

Chris Lempesis

DULUTH – Minnesota’s men’s hockey team was 3-7-0 in its last 10 meetings with Duluth.

If there ever was a time the Gophers needed to improve that mark, it was this weekend as the team was trying to show it was better than the six uneven performances it had turned in thus far.

And it didn’t really happen.

Seventh-ranked Minnesota was again plagued by the same things – mainly inconsistency and lack of hustle – that have haunted the team all season. The Gophers earned but a tie in their two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association set with the Bulldogs. Minnesota tied Duluth 2-2 Friday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center before losing 4-3 Saturday.

The Gophers now have a mark of 3-3-2 overall and 3-2-1 in conference play.

“Talent doesn’t beat hard work,” junior forward Ryan Potulny said. “And until we figure that out, we’re going to struggle. We’re going to be a .500 team.”

None of this was more evident than in the second period of Saturday’s game. Trailing 2-1, Minnesota played flat for the majority of the 20 minutes following a less-than-stellar effort in the first period.

Offensively, the Gophers registered just eight shots on goal. Defensively, freshman goaltender Jeff Frazee let in a weak goal when he was beaten by Bulldog forward Andrew Carroll short-side from the bottom of the faceoff circle to his right.

Frazee, who probably should have stopped the shot that led to Duluth’s second goal, also allowed three goals on 16 shots and was pulled in favor of junior Kellen Briggs after the Carroll goal.

Minnesota finally began to play with some desperation in the third period. The Gophers controlled the action, putting 21 shots on goal in the frame.

Minnesota cut its deficit to 3-2 on a Potulny goal 2:21 in. But, keeping with the two steps forward, two steps back theme that has plagued the Gophers so far this season, they again fell behind by two goals just 31 seconds later as Carroll netted his second goal of the night.

Potulny then notched his second of the night at 12:32 to make it a 4-3 game, but the momentum from that goal was thwarted 36 seconds later when senior forward Gino Guyer was tagged for two minutes for roughing-contact to the head.

Despite some great scoring opportunities late in the game, Minnesota never was able to even things up.

“Too late, that’s what our performance was,” Potulny said.

“I think we’ve got to start preparing for the game earlier. (We) can’t decide, the third period, you want to try and win a game.”

The Saturday night effort was even more surprising considering that the team was fairly consistent throughout on Friday, the night that’s given the Gophers the most trouble this season.

Briggs, the usual Friday night starter, came up with a lot of key stops – he made 31 in all – and the offense was able to create a lot of good scoring chances. In fact, had it not been for the equally outstanding play of Briggs’ counterpart, Duluth goalie Isaac Reichmuth, Minnesota might have come out with a win.

But the team came out with zero wins in two games, and the Gophers say they know why. And it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with what happens on the weekends.

“I said it before: We have not had a great work ethic in practice,” coach Don Lucia said. “If you don’t Ö you have to develop habits Monday through Thursday if they’re gonna work on Friday and Saturday.”

Potulny and Guyer echoed their coach’s sentiments. Guyer also said that despite the team’s subpar play thus far, the Gophers do not feel things have reached any sort of crisis point.

“It’s not panicking. It’s disappointment right now,” Guyer said. “We’re disappointed in ourselves. We know we’re a better team and we’re a much harder-working team. It just hasn’t happened yet for whatever reason.”

Minnesota also knows that it is running out of time to fix the problems as it tries to keep up with the competition in the always-tough WCHA.

On the flip side, the man who coached the Gophers’ competition this weekend, Duluth’s Scott Sandelin, said he liked some of the things his team showed him.

“Each weekend you build off something,” Sandelin said.

While that might be true for Sandelin’s young team, which has 11 freshmen, building blocks were not nearly as abundant for the Gophers. In fact, from the way the team sounded after Saturday’s defeat, one wonders if they came away with any.

“We’re not playing like a team right now,” Potulny said. “I think we gotta find our identity. We don’t have the swagger that Minnesota Gophers usually have. Usually we walk into a building and we have that swagger; we have that confidence. And we just don’t have it right now.”