Hockey team splits series, stays in tie for first place

by Michael Rand

MARQUETTE, Mich. — After Gophers winger Mike Anderson scored his team’s second goal in a 35-second span of the third period Friday night — a stretch that turned a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 Minnesota lead over Northern Michigan — the band at Lakeview Arena broke into its rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.”
The goals ended the Wildcats’ bid for an upset in the series opener, after they had clawed back from an early 2-0 deficit to tie the score. Ryan Kraft added an empty net goal to make the final score 5-2.
Saturday’s game had the same general theme: The Wildcats employed a tight-checking style and took advantage of a small ice sheet to keep the Gophers players bottled up. At the end of two periods, the score was tied 1-1.
Less than three minutes into the third period, Northern Michigan winger Curtis Sheptak was called for checking-from-behind, giving Minnesota a five-minute power play. The stage appeared set for the Gophers to run their winning streak to seven games and hand the Wildcats their ninth consecutive loss.
Northern Michigan fans at first voiced their displeasure with the penalty called on Sheptak. But they silently returned to their seats, fearing an encore performance of the song they had heard a night before.
The five-minute stretch proved to be the difference in the game, but not in the way most people expected it to be.
The Wildcats limited the Gophers to one shot on goal during the power play, and Brad Frattaroli converted a 2-on-1 shorthanded break into the go-ahead goal. Northern Michigan shut Minnesota down for the final 13:40 to preserve the 2-1 win.
Minnesota missed a chance to take sole possession of first place in the WCHA by losing Saturday. The Gophers entered the weekend in a three-way tie with North Dakota, which split its series with Alaska Anchorage, and Colorado College, which was idle.
“You don’t realize how big losing to Northern Michigan is until you’re jockeying for position at the end of the year,” Gophers senior Dan Hendrickson said. “Give them credit. They played an effective game.”
The Gophers generated several scoring chances on Saturday, firing 71 total shots. Barely half of those shots, however, reached Northern Michigan goalie Dieter Kochan, and all but one of the shots that made it to the net were turned away.
The Wildcats, in comparison attempted 37 shots overall, 21 of which were on net. In the third period alone, Minnesota outshot Northern Michigan by more than a 3-1 margin.
The Wildcats opened the scoring just 31 seconds into the game on a bizarre goal. Sheptak brought the puck just inside the red line and fired what seemed like a routine slap shot toward Gophers goalie Erik Day. But Day lost sight of the puck and it sailed over his left shoulder and into the net.
The Gophers tied the game late in the period on Reggie Berg’s first goal of the season, a deflection of Erik Rasmussen’s shot from the point.
Neither team scored in the second period, setting the stage for the dramatic last 20 minutes.
“We could have easily taken the momentum away from them,” Gophers co-captain Mike Crowley said.
That’s something the Gophers did Friday night, damaging the Wildcats’ hopes with the two quick third period goals from an unexpected source — the fourth line.
Erik Rasmussen, who ended up centering the fourth line for a shift after he didn’t make it off the ice on a line change, converted a rebound off a shot by Rico Pagel shot to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead.
Pagel then set up another goal 35 seconds later when he left the puck for Anderson in the slot.
“We have a job to do when we go out there,” said Pagel, who had his first points as a Gopher in Friday night’s game. “We’re not out there to be the big scoring line. We have to work hard — that’s our goal.”
Gophers coach Doug Woog said he was glad to see the hard-working line get rewarded.
“That one had L’ written all over it,” he said. “Had it not been for the fourth line, we may not have won.”
Woog said he thought his team played better on Saturday than on Friday, even though the scores wouldn’t suggest it.
“We played hard and we played good,” Woog said. “I would have felt worse if we had just gone through the motions.”
Still, the effort was below the expectations of some players. The series was similar to the Gophers’ other road series against Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin, in which they also split.
“When we don’t come to work hard, we’re not a very good team,” Hendrickson said after Saturday’s game. “You have to be ready to play every night.”

Gophers 2 0 3 — 5
Northern Michigan 1 1 0 — 2

First Period: Min — Rasmussen 7 (Hankinson, Berg) PPG, 12:12. Min — J. Godbout 2 (Anderson, LaFleur) SHG, 17:59. NMU — Holly 3 (Frattaroli, Phillips), 18:53.
Second Period: NMU — Ruff 1 (Smith) PPG, 4:19.
Third Period: Min — Rasmussen 8 (Pagel, Anderson), 4:35. Min — Anderson 4 (Pagel, LaFleur), 5:10. Min — Kraft 5 (Smith) ENG, 19:29.

Gophers 1 0 0 — 1
Northern Michigan 1 0 1 — 2

First Period: NMU — Sheptak 2 (Smith), 0:29. Min — Berg 1 (Rasmussen, Clymer), 17:20.
Second Period: No scoring.
Third Period: NMU — Frattaroli 2 (Smith) SHG, 6:20.