Late collapse knocks Ufrom playoffs

Aaron Kirscht

DULUTH, Minn. — Sounding hoarse and looking spent, Gophers men’s hockey coach Doug Woog hesitated for a long moment before saying that no, he’d never been through a loss like this.
“I’m thinking,” Woog said through pursed lips. “I can’t recall one.”
Minnesota seemed certain to advance to the WCHA Final Five when it shut out Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday and held it scoreless for two periods on Sunday. But in a wild 11-minute stretch in the third period, down 4-0, the Bulldogs showed that they, too, can play with desperation.
They scored four times to force overtime. Senior forward Mike Peluso capped off the rally with a mid-air tip-in at 10:49 of overtime. The 5-4 win will send the Bulldogs, not Minnesota, to the Final Five.
“We took on the giant and won for a change,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Mike Sertich said.
Minnesota-Duluth’s scoring flurry was reminiscent of the one Gophers goalie Steve DeBus suffered at the hands of North Dakota on Feb. 15, when Minnesota took a 3-0 lead into the third period before losing 5-3.
But this one ended his Gophers career.
Early in the third period, Duluth native and local fan favorite Dave Spehar skated out from behind the Bulldogs’ net and fired a wrister past Bulldogs goalie Brant Nicklin from the left circle. That gave the Gophers a four-goal lead and seemed to put the game entirely out of reach for Minnesota-Duluth.
DeBus had equaled a team record with his seventh career shutout Saturday and looked ready to put the finishing touches on his eighth, but the Bulldogs’ prolonged scoreless streak ended six minutes into the third period when forward Ryan Coole’s shot trickled lazily under DeBus’ pads and into the net.
Six minutes later, DeBus crept out of the crease to knock away a weak shot from just inside the blue line. But the clearing attempt was intercepted by Bulldogs forward Curtis Bois in the slot, and with DeBus still caught up in the traffic atop the crease, Gophers defenseman Dylan Mills dove to the ice to protect the open net. Mills’ desperate attempt was too late, however, to stop Bois from backhanding in Minnesota-Duluth’s second goal of the game.
The Bulldogs changed their forecheck scheme after the second period, sending four and sometimes five players deep into the Gophers’ zone. That’s a risky strategy, one that can leave the goalie on the other end all alone, but it was a gamble that worked in Minnesota-Duluth’s favor.
“What have we got to lose?” Sertich surmised after the game. “Tomorrow we would have been golfing.”
With a scant 3:28 left in the game, Bulldogs defenseman Curtis Doell cut the deficit to one when he forced the puck through a scrum in front of DeBus. The crowd noise became almost deafening, and the fans’ cries were answered less than a minute later when defenseman Bert Gilling tied the game off a leaker from the left circle.
Early in the overtime, the Gophers had several shots at breaking the tie, but Nicklin turned them all back. For awhile, DeBus did the same, kicking away a handful of near-misses. But when the Bulldogs’ Ken Dzikowski’s point-blank shot was deflected into the air, Peluso was there to catch a sliver of the puck on its descent and slip it past DeBus.
“I thought for sure we’d sneak out of here with a win,” DeBus said. “But they were never out of it, and unfortunately for us, they won the game.”
Added co-captain Casey Hankinson, “They got four, and we were still naive enough to think we were going to win the game.”
Peluso’s goal was somehow a fitting end to the Gophers season, one of the worst in team history. Missed opportunities, as they had so many times before, gave way to failed expectations.
Senior co-captain Ryan Kraft returned from a mild concussion he suffered in the first period on Saturday to give the Gophers an early lead.
He picked up the puck deep in the Minnesota zone, skated end to end and let loose with a blast from the left boards that found the five-hole and put the Gophers up 1-0.
Rico Pagel scored his third goal in as many games midway through the second period, giving Minnesota a 2-0 lead, and Kraft scored his second goal of the night with less than a minute remaining in the period. Wyatt Smith put a shot on net and the rebound kicked right. Kraft then skated out of the corner and into the slot, danced a pirouette to evade Bulldogs defenseman Jason Garatti and slammed the puck between Nicklin’s pads.
Spehar’s goal was the last for Minnesota. The floodgates opened and the Bulldogs poured right through.
“Our performance up here was pretty good,” Woog said. “We came up here and played hard and played well, but we just couldn’t get it done.
“We were right on the edge of doing something and we just couldn’t quite do it.”
That, it seems, was the Gophers’ season in a nutshell.

SCORING SUMMARIES

FRIDAY’S GAME
Gophers 1 1 1 – 3
UMD 1 3 3 – 7
FIRST PERIOD: UMD — Peluso (Pogreba, Dzikowski), PPG 6:11. Minn — Anderson (unassisted), 17:06.
SECOND PERIOD: UMD — Scissons (Lidster, Fibiger), 5:39. Minn — Pagel (Kohn, Westrum), 4-on-4 9:05. UMD — Rybar (Lidster, Peluso), 12:18. UMD — Scissons (C. Anderson, Doell), PPG 16:58.
THIRD PERIOD: UMD — Scissons (Homstol, C. Anderson), PPG 7:05. UMD —Pogreba (Bois, R. Anderson), 7:51. Minn — Smith (Westrum, Kraft), PPG (pulled goalie) 17:28. UMD — Scissons (C. Anderson), ENG 18:34.

SATURDAY’S GAME
Gophers 3 2 0 – 5
UMD 0 0 0 – 0
FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Hankinson (Kohn, Smith), PPG 6:19. Minn — Spehar (Smith), PPG 15:46. Minn — Pagel (Smith, Abrahamson), 4-on-4 18:35.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — N. Miller (Berg, Westrum), PPG 10:27. Minn — Berg (Lyons), SHG 15:57.
THIRD PERIOD: No scoring.

SUNDAY’S GAME
Gophers 1 2 1 – x – 4
UMD 0 0 4 – 1 – 5

FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Kraft (Mills), 3:29.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Pagel (Abrahamson), 12:32. Minn — Kraft (unassisted), 19:14.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Spehar (Kraft), 3:32. UMD — Coole (Scissons), 6:14. UMD — Bois (unassisted), 12:16. UMD — Doell (Scissons, Gilling), 16:32. UMD —Gilling (Rybar, Dzikowski), 17:13.
OVERTIME: UMD — Peluso (Rybar, Dzikowski), 10:49.

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