Gophers go winless despite solid effort

Lou Raguse

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s equipment manager was busy Saturday night. Broken hockey sticks needed replacing every couple minutes, it seemed, as the Gophers battled in the midst of a 3-3 tie against Wisconsin on Saturday night.

But a Gophers defensive breakdown in the third period that led to a shorthanded Badgers goal with 6:01 remaining cost Minnesota (2-7-1, 1-6-1 WCHA) the chance for a win or even another tie as Wisconsin (6-3-1, 3-2-1) won 4-3.

Although the Gophers blew two-goal leads each night, they outplayed the Badgers in nearly every aspect of the game. Minnesota outshot Wisconsin 77-49 for the series, controlled the puck in its offensive zone and saw growth in several players’ performances.

“We didn’t get rewarded this weekend for how hard we played,” coach Don Lucia said. “The bottom line is winning games and getting points, and you can’t give up four goals a game and win. We can’t seem to (score) more than three.”

Most frustrating for the Gophers was the outstanding play of Wisconsin goaltender Bernd Bruckler. The junior from Graz, Austria, prevented Minnesota from breaking either game open several times in the series, giving the Badgers chances to hang on.

“When your goalie is playing well like that, you can wait for your chance and score on your chance,” Lucia said.

Sophomore Thomas Vanek scored two goals in each game of the series, but it was still not enough to earn a win over the weekend.

“Luck is definitely not on our side right now,” Vanek said. “But we can’t pout about it. It will come sooner or later.”

In Saturday’s second period, Minnesota forward Barry Tallackson scored his second goal of the season when he slipped a shot through the five-hole to put the Gophers up 3-1.

The momentum shifted, however, soon enough.

Just 20 seconds after Vanek went to the penalty box for a holding-the-stick infraction, Wisconsin defenseman Tom Sawatske scored a power-play goal for the Badgers.

Wisconsin tied it up minutes later when an apparent save popped out of Gophers’ goalie Kellen Briggs’ glove and crossed the goal.

“It’s frustrating because the biggest thing we wanted to do this weekend was battle and work hard from start to finish,” Lucia said. “And you know what, we did that.”

Minnesota controlled Friday’s game for all but a five-minute stretch early in the third period.

The Gophers got on the scoreboard first with a power-play goal by sophomore Tyler Hirsch.

It was an ugly period penalty-wise, with Minnesota and Wisconsin spending a combined 22 minutes in the box. It was the only period the Badgers outshot the Gophers all weekend.

Vanek came alive in the second period, lighting the lamp for two goals while the Badgers scored their first of the game on a shot that deflected off the stick of Gophers forward Matt Koalska.

In the period, Minnesota played some of the best offensive hockey of its season. The Gophers kept the puck in the offensive zone, getting good shots, and second and third chances.

“We didn’t turn it over,” Lucia said. “That’s the key, where in the past we turned the puck over so many times that we couldn’t sustain anything from an offensive standpoint.”

Then came the breakdowns.

Just 36 seconds into the third period, Wisconsin’s Dan Boeser rattled off several attempts before cutting an angle past Briggs for the goal. The Badgers tied the game 3:42 later.

Neither team had a lot going in the extra period, leading to the tie.

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said that after winning the last two national championships, Minnesota is experiencing some very unique problems.

“Minnesota is going through the struggles of success right now,” Eaves said. “This was a good-case scenario for us.”