Streaking into playoffs unbeaten in seven

The Gophers took 3 points from Bemidji State, but lost juniors Taylor Matson and Aaron Ness to injury in the regular season’s final series.

Gophers center Nick Bjugstad scores a goal on Bemidji goaltender Kent Patterson on Saturday in Bemidji, Minn.

Image by Jules Ameel

Gophers center Nick Bjugstad scores a goal on Bemidji goaltender Kent Patterson on Saturday in Bemidji, Minn.

by Austin Cumblad

BEMIDJI âÄì HowâÄôs this for a 24-hour mood swing?

Gophers center Nick Bjugstad was the goat here Friday night, however unfairly. A one-goal lead in hand, the freshman took a hooking penalty with 40 seconds to play, giving Bemidji State, its goalie pulled, a 6-on-4 power play.

Though it looked like Bjugstad had simply lifted a defensemanâÄôs stick and knocked it out of his hands, the Beavers used the two-man advantage to score the tying goal with 19 seconds remaining in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, the Gophers settled for a deflating 3-3 tie. That they had secured home-ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs was little consolation after a game they felt they had won.

âÄúI was pretty disappointed in myself for taking that penalty [Friday] night,âÄù Bjugstad said. âÄúI just felt I had to do whatever it took [Saturday].âÄù

Whatever it took meant two goals, including the overtime game-winner, in a 3-2 comeback win that sealed a fifth-place league finish. For good measure, he got an apology from the referee Saturday during warm-ups.

âÄúHe said it was a bad call,âÄù Bjugstad said. âÄúHe said heâÄôs never seen that before. I said, âÄòItâÄôs alright, weâÄôll move on here,âÄô and thatâÄôs what we did.âÄù

BjugstadâÄôs first goal Saturday âÄî late in the second period âÄî came seconds after he left the box for another hooking penalty. Freshman defenseman Mark AltâÄôs one-timer was saved by Bemdji State goaltender Dan Bakala, who made a career-high 44 saves in the loss, but Bjugstad swatted in the rebound to trim MinnesotaâÄôs deficit to 2-1.

Until that point, the Gophers had struggled to clear their own zone, which led to both of the BeaversâÄô goals. On the second, the puck careened off a stray stick behind the net and directly into Aaron McLeodâÄôs path.

âÄúYou think maybe itâÄôs not going to be our night,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said of his mood after what he called a âÄúflukeyâÄù goal. âÄúBut getting that first goal [in the second period] was very, very important, and the guys kept coming. They hung in there.âÄù

Senior Mike Hoeffel scored on the power play with just more than five minutes to go to force overtime, and BjugstadâÄôs tip of senior Cade FairchildâÄôs pass snuck past Bakala, who was otherwise brilliant, 20 seconds into the extra period.

With the fifth seed in the WCHA playoffs, Minnesota will host eight-seed Alaska Anchorage next weekend in a best-of-three series. The winner advances to the Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Gophers are currently 19th in the Pairwise rankings, which determine NCAA at-large bids. TheyâÄôll need to make a playoff push to climb into position for a national tournament berth.

Senior captain Jay Barriball returned this weekend from an injury that kept him out six games, assisting BjugstadâÄôs power-play goal Friday night and all three goals Saturday. Though the nature of the injury was never disclosed, Barriball had ice on his right knee after FridayâÄôs game, but said he had no pain and gained confidence with each shift.

If BarriballâÄôs return was a step forward, Minnesota also took two steps back Friday. Juniors Taylor Matson and Aaron Ness left the game with injuries, and as of Saturday night it was unclear whether either will be available for next weekendâÄôs playoff series.