Men’s hockey shows promise, gains split with Denver

Despite a confidence-building 6-2 win Friday, the Gophers still have not won a series this year.

Lou Raguse

When Denver’s men’s hockey team traveled to Minneapolis over the weekend, it hoped to extend its undefeated season.

On Friday, however, the Pioneers ran into a Minnesota hockey puck massacre. Five Gophers scored, ripping apart Denver for six goals.

The next night, though, Mariucci Arena was more inviting for the visitors, and Denver (5-1, 1-1 WCHA) managed to eke out a 4-3 victory and split the series.

In Friday’s 6-2 blowout, Minnesota (2-4, 1-3) looked more like the Gophers of old, something coach Don Lucia hopes to see more of as the WCHA season progresses.

“Our top players played like they are supposed to – Thomas Vanek scored, Matt Koalska scored, Troy Riddle scored and Grant Potulny had two goals,” Lucia said. “The guys that are supposed to be in charge offensively were tonight.”

Prior to Friday, the four players had a combined total of three goals. Potulny changed that early in the first period.

Just 19 seconds after freshman Danny Irmen put the Gophers on top 1-0, Potulny decked left and dropped the easy goal past Adam Berkhoel’s outstretched glove.

“It was a relief,” Potulny said. “That’s the thing about hockey; you get chances and chances, but after you get one, it seems to start rolling.”

It was the first game in which the Gophers lit the lamp before their opponent, but even more importantly, Minnesota got a two-goal cushion early in the game – a luxury it has not had in previous games.

“It was nice,” goaltender Kellen Briggs said. “I wouldn’t say you relax, but you know it’s there, and the guys know its there, and you can really put them down when you get up two or three to nothing.”

Minnesota was able to sustain its level of play Saturday, but costly defensive mistakes combined with a sharper Denver team led to the Gophers’ defeat.

“We had our chances, but you just can’t give up four goals,” Lucia said.

Berkhoel, a Woodbury, Minn., native, had a shaky outing Friday, playing only the first 27 minutes and giving up four goals.

“I haven’t had a good game here in four years,” Berkhoel said.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, he had a much better performance Saturday, stopping 31 Minnesota shots in the victory.

Denver went ahead 3-1 in the first period, scoring two goals on power plays and the other on a two-man rush before defenseman Peter Kennedy could reach them.

Vanek brought Minnesota back, scoring his first goal 14:50 into the busy first period on a power play pass from Koalska.

Vanek’s second goal really got the crowd buzzing. Halfway through the second period, Vanek followed his missed slap shot behind the net, where he skated around and attempted a wrap-around shot. When it was deflected, he did the exact same thing – but with success.

“Vanek was outstanding,” Lucia said. “It’s nice to see that competitiveness.”

Vanek was on the ice much of the game’s final period but spent two minutes in the penalty box after being called for a costly high-sticking penalty with 6:11 remaining.

Although the Gophers didn’t get the series sweep they had hoped, Lucia said that he saw improvement at various positions and can see where they still need the work.

“I thought we played better this weekend than we did last weekend,” Lucia said. “We just want to get better position by position, but (at 1-3 in the WCHA) we can’t bury ourselves too much.”