Minnesota gets three points over weekend

Mark Remme

This week at practice, members of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team said they wouldn’t take Minnesota State-Mankato lightly, despite overmatching them on paper.

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Michigan Tech
WHEN: 6:07 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Sports Pavilion

Whether they did is debatable, but the top-ranked Gophers extended their nation-best unbeaten streak to 16 games by laboring to a 5-5 draw Friday night and a 2-1 victory Saturday in a home-and-home matchup with the Mavericks in Western Collegiate Hockey Association action play.

Neither team looked poised to win Friday’s game. In fact, a multigoal lead proved to be a disadvantage.

Minnesota State (3-10-2 overall, 2-7-1 WCHA) silenced the Mariucci crowd of 10,088 by netting three goals on seven shots in the first period.

Harboring a three-goal advantage, the Mavericks not only outscored Minnesota, but outplayed them physically and mentally.

“We came into the game and our heads weren’t in it,” Gophers junior defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “It was kind of a wake-up call.”

But the second period was a different story. It wasn’t that Minnesota State let go of its intensity from the first period – it was the inability to stay out of the penalty box that let Minnesota back into the game.

The Gophers (13-1-3, 7-0-3) exploded for four power-play goals in the second and added one more in the third. It was the first time since Dec. 29, 2005, against Union, they’ve scored five goals on the man-advantage in one game.

“We got better in that second period – scoring those power-play goals,” coach Don Lucia said.

The scoring onslaught came in the midst of a brawl that landed four players from each team in the penalty box at 10:31 of the second.

Sophomore forward Blake Wheeler was hauled down while skating in on Mavericks goalie Dan Tormey, and in the process, a fight ensued in the crease.

But more importantly – and much more costly – was as Wheeler went down, he slid skates first into Tormey and forced him to leave the game.

Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting said Tormey suffered a severed tendon in his wrist and must undergo surgery. There is no timetable on his return.

Sophomore netminder Mike Zacharias entered the game in place of Tormey and was burned for three goals on seven shots in the remaining minutes of the second period.

Minnesota took a two-goal lead on Goligoski’s power-play goal, but was unable to stave off a Minnesota State offense that out-shot the Gophers 20-8 in the third period and overtime, scoring a pair of goals in the third to get the tie.

Jutting said the explanation is simple: The Mavericks stayed at even strength in the third.

“We were out of the box,” he said. “We played the whole second period in the penalty box.”

Minnesota’s visibly upset locker room had a different take on the collapse.

“That’s either our second or third two-goal lead in the third period we’ve given up at home,” Goligoski said. “That’s unacceptable in your home arena.”

Saturday night’s game lacked the constant firepower that lit up the scoreboard the night before.

Minnesota earned the 2-1 victory with a game-winning score by freshman center Kyle Okposo 9:30 into the first period.

Okposo said after three goals were netted in the first 10 minutes, he didn’t expect his score to be the game-winner.

The rest of the game was a cluster of minor penalties, unsuccessful power plays and lights-out goaltending.

Senior goaltender Kellen Briggs started both games of the series for the first time all season, and after giving up a goal to senior forward Kurtis Kisio on the first shot he faced, he had 28 straight saves on the night.

“I thought Kellen played very well tonight,” Jutting said. “If you stop 28 of 29, your team’s gonna win.”

Lucia said his netminder’s play not only was the catalyst to the win, but it also was the reason for the Mavericks’ 0-for-9 showing on the power play.

“The penalty-killers did a very good job, led by our goaltender,” Lucia said. “Your goaltender has to be your best penalty-killer and he was tonight.”

Lucia said while the Gophers labored to get one win and one tie, there is no hanging heads about earning three points.

“You find ways to win and you keep putting points in the bank,” Lucia said. “They’ll come in handy at the end of the year.”

Hirsch, Frazee sit

Senior forward Tyler Hirsch missed both games this weekend, while sophomore goalie Jeff Frazee was also benched for his usual Saturday start.

The moves were an apparent statement from coach Don Lucia that working hard in practice will dictate who plays on Friday and Saturday.

In regard to Hirsch, Lucia said after Friday’s game it was a matter of properly preparing.

“We felt that based on practice this week, the 12 forwards who deserved to play, played,” Lucia said.

As for Frazee, Lucia said the demeanor of Briggs helped in the decision.

“Kellen’s working hard and Jeff is doing a great job, but the way (Frazee) was working Monday through Thursday just wasn’t up to standard,” Lucia said. “Kellen is a senior and he wants to play every night so I went back to him (Saturday).”

Lucia said having a good week of practice might allow him to put Hirsch and Frazee back into the lineup, but he said such lessons will be enforced throughout the season.

“We’re going to be on top of that from start to finish,” he said. “It’s not fair to a guy who’s working hard and has a great attitude to allow a guy who doesn’t want to work in a given week to be rewarded with playing time.”