Men’s hockey opens WCHA season at home flat

Minnesota-Duluth swept the Gophers, marking the U’s first back-to-back losses since the 2000-01 season.

by Lou Raguse

With 10 seconds left in Saturday’s game against Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey forward Luke Stauffacher skated to daylight and shot the puck into the empty net.

The goal was the finishing touch to the Bulldogs’ series sweep of the Gophers.

“They deserved to win the game today,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “They made the plays early in the game and let their goaltender do the rest.”

The 4-2 loss Saturday dropped No. 3 Minnesota’s record to 1-3 and 0-2 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Following the 4-3 overtime defeat Friday, it marked the first time the Gophers lost consecutive games since the end of the 2000-2001 season.

“You want to give yourself a chance to win every night, and for the first 40 minutes, we didn’t give ourselves that chance,” Lucia said. “We went against a good team.”

Minnesota outshot No. 15 Minnesota-Duluth 17-4 in the final period Saturday, but Bulldogs goaltender Isaac Reichmuth was virtually impenetrable. The sophomore backstop came up with 39 saves Saturday to total 74 for the weekend.

“Minnesota is a tough team to not give up shots to,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “That’s what great goalies do; they keep giving their team a chance to win.”

Sandelin said the Bulldogs (2-2-1, 2-0) weren’t expecting to come out of Minneapolis with a sweep.

“I was just trying to get points,” Sandelin said.

But Friday, junior T.J. Caig got Minnesota-Duluth started with a slap-shot goal 14:38 into the first period. The forward also ended the game with an unassisted top-shelf goal in overtime.

“It was a clean shot to the outside post,” Minnesota goalie Justin Johnson said.

With 5:00 left in the third period Friday, the Gophers clung to a 3-2 lead.

Then Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Tim Hambly passed the puck half the length of the rink to his teammate Brett Hammond, who slid it through the five hole for the tying goal.

“It was one of those fluke plays where it squeaks through and right onto the tape of another guy,” Johnson said. “It was a real run-and-gun game, and you’re going to get that kind of stuff when games are like that.”

Johnson had 23 saves Friday, but Lucia went with freshman Kellen Briggs at the goal Saturday and was pleased with his performance.

“Kellen was real sharp tonight,” Lucia said. “A couple rebound goals weren’t his fault, but he didn’t get beat on a clean shot. I think that was one of the biggest positives of the night.”

The Gophers outshot the Bulldogs 79-52 in the two games.

And Minnesota slightly improved its power-play percentage Friday by going 2-for-4 with the extra man.

But the Gophers’ special teams took a big hit late in the game as junior defenseman Keith Ballard skated off the ice with an injured left knee.

The assistant captain left the game in the third period after

colliding with a Minnesota-Duluth player and did not dress for Saturday’s game.

“It’s frustrating,” Ballard said of not being able to play. “It’s not something I want to be doing for too long.”

Ballard described his injury as day-to-day. He also commented on the somber mood of the locker room after Saturday’s loss.

“It’s a reminder of what happens in this league when you take a night off, or a period off, or two periods off,” Ballard said.