Forget that the Minnesota men’s hockey team spent the first month of its season playing top-10 teams.
Saturday’s game at Alaska-Anchorage had more bearing on the season — at least that’s what Gophers coach Don Lucia told his team after falling 5-2 to the Seawolves on Friday.
After the loss, the Gophers were stuck in the middle of WCHA standings and in danger of falling into the depths of the WCHA.
Minnesota got Lucia’s message and came back to beat Alaska 3-1.
“After losing (Friday), I told the guys (Saturday) is the biggest game we’ve played so far,” said Lucia during a postgame interview on local radio station KSTP AM-1500. “We got into the third period and that was the biggest period we’ve played. I’m really happy we were able to come away with two points.”
After goals from junior center Erik Westrum and freshman winger Dan Welch put Minnesota up 2-1 in the second period, the Gophers (5-9-1, 3-5-1 WCHA) didn’t allow any hope of a slip. Minnesota held Alaska to just one shot on goal in the third.
Late in the third, Gophers winger John Pohl put the game out of reach. The sophomore, who had his seven-game point streak snapped on Friday — scored on an empty net at 14:06.
It wasn’t an offensive affair. Seawolves (7-6-0, 5-4-0) goaltender Corey Strachan had 16 saves. On the other end of the ice, Gophers goalie Adam Hauser stopped 22 shots.
“(Adam) would be the first to say that he bounced back from maybe the worst game of the year,” said Lucia of Hauser’s transition from Friday to Saturday. “He played very well, very solid, very consistent for us and that’s where it all starts.
“It’s funny. When your goaltender plays well, it covers up some mistakes, too.”
On Friday, Hauser was of no help to his team. The sophomore stopped just 22 of 27 shots on goal in the Gophers 5-2 loss.
A 1-0 Alaska lead was a bad omen for Minnesota — the Seawolves are unbeaten this season when they score first.
But Gophers forward Stuart Senden tied the score at 10:13 in the second. Two minutes later, Minnesota lost the lead again off a turnover.
Westrum countered with his first of two goals on the weekend. Westrum scored from just outside the crease off a pass from senior winger Dave Spehar.
“(Westrum) played with a lot of heart, a lot of poise this weekend,” Lucia said.
But after that, Alaska blanked the Gophers. The Seawolves added another goal in the second before scoring two more in the final period.
Minnesota looks to continue getting on track in the WCHA next weekend, with a home-and-home series. The Gophers travel to St. Cloud on Friday and host the Huskies on Saturday.
ùGophers forward Pat O’Leary left Saturday’s game early after taking an elbow in the face. The sophomore was knocked unconscious. Lucia said O’Leary was alright, but his status for next weekend is unknown.
Sarah Mitchell covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]