Men’s hockey splits with Anchorage, sits in middle of WCHA

Tim Nichols

The Gophers men’s hockey team spent most of the week talking about how it needed four points at Alaska-Anchorage in order to hang with the rest of the pack in the WCHA.
But with a weekend split the Gophers remain in the same precarious position they started in. Minnesota (5-5-2 WCHA, 6-6-2 overall) and Alaska-Anchorage (2-5-1 WCHA, 3-8-1 overall) split its series at Anchorage, with the Seawolves winning 5-3 on Friday and the Gophers rebounding for a 4-1 win Saturday.
Minnesota came out on Saturday determined to take the last two points of the series, scoring three goals in the first period to take the lead and never turn back.
Adam Hauser also came up big between the pipes as he stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced.
The intensity shown by the Gophers on Saturday was a significant turnaround from Friday’s effort.
And although the box scores suggest that Minnesota choked away Friday’s game, coach Doug Woog said that wasn’t the case.
“We had a good effort on Saturday,” Woog said. “But the shot charts for the two games were identical. It was hard to explain.”
The game also had a spooky similarity to Minnesota’s Oct. 24 loss at St. Cloud State, when the Gophers tied the game with less than a minute remaining in the game but allowed the go-ahead goal in the closing seconds.
The low point of Friday’s game happened 53 seconds after Wyatt Smith tied the game at three with a short-handed goal, when the Seawolves’ Klage Kaebel scored the game-winner to ice the game for Alaska-Anchorage.
“It happened going into our zone, one of our defenseman fell down,” Woog said. “It was pretty much an individual error. Another was when one of our defensemen had his elbow jabbed, which led to a goal.”
Minnesota bounced back to play inspired hockey for 60 minutes on Saturday, with goaltending being the x-factor for both teams.
“Hauser saved our bacon in the second period,” Woog said. “He did a good job. But some things went right for us. Alaska received extremely good goaltending of Friday, and average goaltending on Saturday. The drop off from good to average is a big one.”
Another factor for the Gophers’ success is the recent play of defenseman Jordan Leopold. The freshman scored two goals this weekend, and now leads all defensemen in points with 11.
“He’s been very steady all year,” Woog said. “A lot of our other younger players played well too. (Doug) Meyer had a couple points, (Matt) Leimbek played hard.”
The Gophers will not play another WCHA game until Jan. 9, when they travel to Denver to take on the red-hot Pioneers.
At .500, the Gophers are right in the middle of the pack of the WCHA with a much tougher portion of the schedule left to play.
So how does the coach grade his squad thus far?
“My guess is that it would have been better to be 7-3-2,” Woog said. “It would of taken a lot more to do that. We should of had at least a tie Friday, there’s the Duluth game, and the last few seconds in St. Cloud. Those are the ones you’d like to have.”

SCORING SUMMARIES

Saturday
Alaska-Anchorage 0 0 0 — 1
Gophers 3 1 0 — 4

FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Leopold 3 (Mills 3), 1:07. Minn — Berg 7 (Lyons 3, Smith 8), 4:36. Minn — Meyer 1 (Wendell 2, Timmons 2), 19:38.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Smith 8 (Mills 4, Berg 10), 1:38.
THIRD PERIOD: UAA — Douglas 7 (unassisted)

Friday
Alaska-Anchorage 3 0 2 — 5
Gophers 1 0 2 — 3

FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Berg 6 (Leimbek 1), 7:09. UAA — Douglas 5 (Carlson 4), 7:42. UAA — Pont 2 (Kaebel 3), 8:09. UAA — Pont 3 (Simon 1), 13:48.
SECOND PERIOD: No scoring.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Leopold 2 (Meyer 1, Leimbek 2), 14:16. Minn — Smith 7 (Berg 9, Lyons 2), SHG, 17:39. UAA — Kaebel 2 (Pont 2, Simon 2), 18:32. UAA — Douglas 6 (Read 5, Lawson 1), ENG, 18:47.