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Another split for Minnesota

The Gophers lost 1-0 to Wisconsin and Denver on back-to-back Fridays.

One week after its 22-game unbeaten streak was snapped, the top-ranked Minnesota men’s hockey team watched its 21-home game unbeaten streak dry up with a 1-0 loss Friday to No. 5 Denver.

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North Dakota
WHEN: 7:07 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Mariucci Arena

But like its setback last Friday against Wisconsin, the Gophers rebounded to claim Saturday’s tilt, 5-4, in a wild display of Western Collegiate Hockey Association play with the Pioneers at Mariucci Arena.

Friday night’s game was an interesting mix of lights-out goaltending and questionable officiating.

Denver (18-8-2 overall, 10-6-2 WCHA) relied on senior goaltender Glenn Fisher, who stood tall from start to finish. Fisher didn’t allow a goal for the Gophers on 31 shots faced.

Fisher’s shutout was the first time Minnesota had been blanked at home since Wisconsin did it, 4-0, on Dec. 3, 2005.

But he didn’t do it alone. In fact, he showed why the pipe is often a goalie’s best friend.

In the first period, Gophers junior forward Ben Gordon broke in on Fisher, slipped the puck through the five-hole only to hit the post and bounce out.

“(Gordon) shot it five-hole when I was coming across,” Fisher said. “It went off my knee and I thought I had it underneath me – I turned around it wasn’t in.”

The shutout typified a Minnesota offense that seemingly fell off the map after its 5-1 win over Minnesota State-Mankato on Jan. 5.

Since then, the Gophers (21-3-3, 13-2-3) scored three goals in its next four games.

“I think we’re playing some good goalies right now – good defensive teams,” coach Don Lucia said. “When you play good teams, good goaltenders, you’re going to go through stretches like this.”

Denver’s lone goal came on a debatable power-play opportunity midway through the second period.

Freshman center Jim O’Brien was called for goaltender interference, and Pioneers junior center Geoff Paukovich wasted no time deflecting a shot home from the point on the man-advantage.

Lucia said he was unsure of referee Todd Anderson’s decision on a play where replays showed O’Brien didn’t make contact with Fisher.

“I saw the whiff,” Lucia said. “They could’ve called a dive, too.”

After a night where pucks bounced everywhere except into Fisher’s net, the Gophers needed to see some sort of life from their senior leaders Saturday.

They got it.

Senior defenseman Mike Vannelli found the net three times in the second period, scoring a hat trick that included two goals on the power play.

“You have to have (that senior leadership),” Lucia said. “He made some good plays Ö tonight the pucks got through.”

While Vannelli’s scoring energized the sellout crowd, it paled in comparison to the melee that ensued in Fisher’s crease toward the end of the first frame.

The scrum started with O’Brien again running into Fisher, for which he received a five-minute major. This time, it was apparent O’Brien was forced into the netminder.

“He got hit into the goaltender – I watched it on videotape,” Lucia said. “He should’ve done a better job of letting up, but he got shoved in.”

Both teams got used to the penalty box as 37 penalties were assessed for 115 penalty minutes.

Most of the infractions were coincidental or part of the first period brawl, but they yielded 14 power-play opportunities, too.

Minnesota was 2-of-7 on the man-advantage Saturday while the Pioneers mustered three goals of their own on nine chances.

With special teams on display and tempers flaring throughout the contest, the two squads showed a certain emotional grit that might lead to postseason success on both sides and, perhaps, a future meeting in March.

And in a series where senior goalie Kellen Briggs allowed one goal in a loss, and sophomore netminder Jeff Frazee surrendered four in a win, that in itself reveals the rollercoaster this series was for both teams.

“It definitely was a physical and emotional weekend,” O’Brien said. “It feels good to win this game, but tomorrow’s another day and we’ve got to get ready for next series.”

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