Minnesota hopes to leave third-period blues at home

David La

Swept out of the College Hockey Showcase by Michigan State and Michigan last weekend, No. 7 Minnesota fell from its perch as the nation’s second-ranked team.
“It was kind of the bottom of everything,” defenseman Jordan Leopold said. “We weren’t practicing well and finally we lost two games, which maybe brings things to reality.”
But ring no bells and blare no sirens — the Gophers are still on top of the WCHA as they travel to Denver (4-7-1) this weekend.
Minnesota (9-3-2) leads No. 2 North Dakota by a lone point in the conference standings, and No. 9 Colorado College is just two points behind.
To secure a pair of wins and the standing points which accompany them, the Gophers must get back to playing solid hockey in key areas.
As assistant captain Johnny Pohl pointed out after Saturday’s loss to Michigan: “Michigan State is number one in the country and we could’ve won that game. Maybe we couldn’t beat Michigan, but we were in the game and we outshot them. So we’re not that far away.”
Score more goals
Simple idea, complex problem. The Gophers put 10 goals past North Dakota goaltenders in early November, then tallied nine scores in the four games since.
Minnesota did face three quality stoppers in Scott Meyer (St. Cloud State), Ryan Miller (Michigan State) and Josh Blackburn (Michigan), but goalies prevent goals, not shots.
The Gophers average 37.6 shots on goal per game, numbers which fell to 30.5 shots against the Huskies, Spartans and Wolverines.
“Everybody has a role, and if your role is to score goals then that’s what you have to do,” wing Troy Riddle said. “And we didn’t score last weekend.”
Beyond just shooting the puck, Minnesota coach Don Lucia wants to see his team create more havoc in front of the net and cash in on rebound attempts — physical tactics deriving from a get-tough mentality.
“You’ve got to be willing to take a punch in the head or a slash in the calves,” forward Nick Anthony said. “But that’s where the goals are scored, right around the net.”
Stop the bleeding
In the third period of game one against North Dakota, the Fighting Sioux blitzed the Gophers for four goals.
St. Cloud State turned game two upside down with three goals over a span of eight minutes in the third period.
Michigan State and Michigan each blasted Minnesota for three-goal periods.
Junior goaltender Adam Hauser manned the net during each meltdown, and is becoming wise to signs of impending doom.
“There’s certain hints,” Hauser said. “Guys stand a little bit taller, they shoot the puck with more authority and they have more poise. That should tell us that they’re ready to come back.
“We’ve got to buckle down and tell ourselves, `We’re still in this thing.'”
The Gophers last two meetings with Denver featured three periods with more than three goals.
Finish the game
On four occasions this season, Minnesota’s opponent rattled off three goals or more in the final period — resulting in one win, two losses and one tie.
Through the first seven games of the season, the Gophers outscored opponents 19-5 in the third period and went 6-0-1.
Since then, Minnesota has been outscored 16-8 in the last stanza and gone 3-3-1.
“We have to finish off the games,” Hauser said. “We have to stick the dagger in their hearts.”
Injuries and a treacherous schedule — five 2000 NCAA tournament teams in November — have taken their toll.
With everyone but Erik Wendell physically ready to go for the Denver series, the Gophers will have the depth they’ve missed in previous games.
Whether or not Minnesota will recapture its form in other areas remains to be seen.
David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]