Gophers take three points at MTU

Chris Lempesis

HOUGHTON, Mich. ” Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s offensive showing against Michigan Tech in Friday’s 7-4 win was overpowering to the point that there was no reason to expect anything different Saturday.

While the Gophers actually cranked out more shots Saturday than Friday (50-43), the numbers didn’t reflect that on the scoreboard. And in the end, a tie ” and a bit of disappointment ” was the result.

Minnesota got just two pucks across the goal line in earning a 2-2 tie with Michigan Tech at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena on Saturday to come out of the weekend with three points.

Top-ranked Minnesota (19-6-5, 14-5-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) is now in second place in the WCHA, one point behind next weekend’s opponent, Denver.

“Coming into the weekend, if you told me we were going to get three points, I would have been happy,” said senior forward and team captain Gino Guyer. “But after getting two last night and setting ourselves up for a chance to get four, it is a little disappointing right now.”

A big reason for the dissatisfaction stems from the fact that the Gophers held a 2-1 lead over the Huskies (7-19-4, 6-12-4 WCHA) going into the third, more than likely needing just one more goal to put down the hard-charging dogs.

But, due in large part to strong goaltending from Michigan Tech freshman Rob Nolan, Minnesota never cashed in. The home team, meanwhile, got a goal from forward Nick Anderson on a shot from the top corner of the crease at the 4:34 mark.

Even though the Gophers put heavy pressure on the Huskies the rest of the way ” especially in overtime, when the puck was in Michigan Tech’s end for most of the five minute session ” Anderson’s goal was the last of the night.

The play of both Nolan, who built on his solid relief work from Friday, and junior Kellen Briggs, who bounced back from his iffy performance Friday to make 32 stops Saturday, was a big reason for this.

And the players’ frustration didn’t necessarily seem to reach coach Don Lucia, who noted his team has still lost just two road games all season; the Gophers are 8-2-4 away from Mariucci Arena and have not lost on the road since a 4-3 defeat at Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 5.

“And, when the year began, you’d take that in a heartbeat,” Lucia said.

It also wouldn’t take long for a coach to jump at the kind of offense Lucia’s team generated Friday and Minnesota took little time in each of the periods showing why. The Gophers scored goals within the first minute of each period in the game.

The early goals in the second and third periods, scored by junior defenseman Mike Vannelli and junior forward Ryan Potulny ” each of whom, along with sophomore forward Evan Kaufmann, had two goals in the game ” were especially crucial.

Vannelli’s first goal gave Minnesota a 4-2 lead and some breathing room just 39 seconds into the middle frame. Potulny’s second tally came 21 seconds into the third and put the Gophers up 7-4. The goal also deflated Michigan Tech and killed any hopes it had of making a third-period push.

Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell credited Minnesota’s balance throughout the lineup and said the Gophers’ overall talent forced his team to play tentatively on defense.

“You give skilled hockey players like Minnesota’s got a lot of time and space like we did in the defensive zone,” Russell said Friday, “eventually they’re going to break you down and cash in.”

One particularly surprising aspect of Minnesota’s offensive explosion was just how balanced it was, considering the Gophers had to do some considerable line juggling without forwards Danny Irmen and Kris Chucko for the series. Both were out with shoulders injuries.

While Kaufmann, Potulny and Vannelli scored all but one of the goals Friday ” freshman forward Phil Kessel had the other ” all four lines were contributing on the offensive end.

“It was nice to see,” Lucia said. “Because going into the game, when you’re short a couple guys, you wonder if that depth factor is going to be an issue. And tonight it wasn’t at all.”

Minnesota’s depth led to some serious offense Friday. But Friday gave way to Saturday and, on that day, the

Gophers were left thinking about the point that could have been.

“We wanted to come up here and get the sweep and we thought we could get it,” Briggs said. “To get three out of four points, it’s kind of tough to swallow.”

Frazee left home

While it was thought, even late last week, that freshman goalie Jeff Frazee would finally get some playing time at some point in the series with Michigan Tech, it turns out he didn’t even make the trip.

Frazee was left home, out for the series because of an unspecified violation of team rules. He will not miss any more time, however, as Lucia said Saturday, Frazee will return to practice Monday.

Frazee has played in nine games this season, posting a 4-2-2 record with a goals against average of 2.77 and a .903 saves percentage.