Shutouts have U looking dangerous

Tim Nichols

The Gophers men’s hockey team is suddenly very, very dangerous.
Minnesota won its first round WCHA playoff series against Alaska-Anchorage with a pair of commanding shutout victories, 4-0 and 1-0. The Gophers relied on a defense that crippled the Seawolves and weaved through the trapping Alaska-Anchorage defensive scheme with atypical ease.
“I thought the play of our team was so solid,” coach Doug Woog said. “We held up well, our defense got back and made great breakout passes. We had the consistency.”
The Gophers tightened up the defense and made the breakout passes along the boards to break into the Seawolves zone.
And once they were in the Seawolves zone, they showed patience and were able to convert on their opportunities. The game-winning goal on Saturday’s 1-0 win happened because freshman defenseman Jordan Leopold held the puck in the zone and waited for the play to develop in front of him. When he shot the puck, Rico Pagel was in position to deflect it into the top corner of the net.
“Look at our two records,” Woog said. “I respect them, but I think our team has played with more oomph than they did, I thought.”
Alaska-Anchorage did not just roll over and die in this series. The Seawolves stuck to their game plan and received some amazing goaltending from freshman Gregg Naumenko.
But Alaska-Anchorage still lacks the overall talent and offensive capabilities to win in the playoffs. Just one consistent goal-scorer could have made a world of difference for Alaska-Anchorage.
“Our attitude and the way we play the game is what it takes to be a champion,” Seawolves coach Dean Talafous said. “We just need to get older, stronger and bring in a little more talent. As far as the discipline and the effort, the way we prepare and battle, sometimes you just get beat by a team with a few more horses. I’m very pleased with everything except the loss.”
The Gophers’ four seniors should be pleased as well. In their last series on Mariucci ice, all they did was pitch two shutouts and command the entire series.
“We didn’t talk about it,” senior Reggie Berg said. “It probably won’t hurt us until we’re done, when we got nothing to do all day except study.”
The senior line of Berg, Wyatt Smith and Mike Anderson was responsible for the third goal of Friday’s 4-0 win. The senior line played especially well throughout the series, posting a plus-3 mark for the series.
The Gophers will now head into the WCHA Final Five after a one-season hiatus, when they were bumped out of the first round by Minnesota-Duluth.
Woog has been waiting all season for his team to make a definitive statement about its destiny. After this weekend’s sweep, Woog’s believes the message has been sent.
“They were truly excited after the game,” Woog said. “It was the old-fashioned good feeling that we used to have on a regular basis. It was taken away from us last year. This is the first time it’s back. You can tell throughout the lineup, you can tell by the unselfish play on the ice.”

SCORING SUMMARIES

Saturday
Alaska-Anchorage 0 0 0 — 0
Gophers 1 0 0 — 1
FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Pagel 4 (Leopold 14, Miskovich 11), 19:02.
SECOND PERIOD: no scoring.
THIRD PERIOD: no scoring.

Friday
Alaska-Anchorage 0 0 0 — 0
Gophers 1 1 2 — 4
FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Miskovich 10 (Spehar 20, Pagel 11), 10:53.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Pohl 6 (N. Miller 8, Wendell 6), 3:05.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Anderson 9 (Smith 19, Berg 25), 11:34. Minn — Wendell 6 (Westrum 22), 15:14.