Five-goal third sinks Gophers

Aaron Kirscht

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — If it had any hope of earning a split in a weekend series with North Dakota, the Gophers men’s hockey team knew it had to avoid the same sorry start that decided the opener, a 4-2 Minnesota loss.
The Gophers did that, scoring three goals in a 2:10 span early in the first period Sunday.
But then they forgot how to finish.
The Sioux made what looked like a sure Minnesota victory disappear with a quintet of goals in the game’s final period to rally for a 5-3 win.
The sweep dropped the Gophers to 12-18 overall and 8-14 in the WCHA, all but eliminating them from the race for fifth place and home ice in the first round of the league playoffs.
“They just turned it up,” Gophers coach Doug Woog said of the decisive third period. “They got their ‘A’ game back and kicked our butts.”
Minnesota opened the scoring when Dave Spehar showed some nifty stick work in the right circle and found Reggie Berg in the slot staring down North Dakota goaltender Karl Goehring. Berg slid the puck between Goehring’s pads to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead.
Defenseman Bill Kohn beat Goehring on an odd-man rush less than a minute later, and Nate Miller’s point-blank one-timer at 8:58 gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead. But the Gophers wouldn’t score again.
For a while, it looked like North Dakota wouldn’t score, either. Just as he was on Saturday, Minnesota goalie Steve DeBus was seemingly unbeatable between the pipes.
But when Gophers defenseman Jason Godbout took a holding penalty at 5:32 of the third period, the Sioux pounced.
“The penalty opened the floodgates,” Woog said, “and they just poured right through. We couldn’t stick with them after that.”
Forward Curtis Murphy snapped DeBus’ shutout with a power play goal at 6:42, beginning a wicked scoring flurry for North Dakota. The Sioux notched three goals in four minutes to tie the game. DeBus was no longer unbeatable and the Gophers’ defense was suddenly porous.
“We were kind of kicking ourselves in the first couple of periods,” Murphy said. “We’d get some chances, but we just couldn’t bury it. But once we got that first goal, we got the crowd into it and we rallied from there.”
North Dakota forward Jay Panzer scored on a bang-bang play in front of the net with just more than five minutes in the game, giving the Sioux a lead that only minutes before seemed unfathomable.
Woog pulled DeBus for an extra skater with 2:10 to play, but UND’s Matt Henderson flipped in an empty-net insurance goal 15 seconds later.
The Sioux have been slow starters all season, but a three-goal deficit had proven to be insurmountable in two prior games this season — one of them against Minnesota in early November.
But North Dakota has now outscored their opponents 40-18 in the third period, and coach Dean Blais said he never thought the game was out of reach.
His players must have agreed.
“I told them we’re not going to kick a field goal to win this thing,” Blais said. “I wasn’t planning on scoring five goals, but strange things can happen when you’re skating and moving the puck.”
The hapless Gophers have had more than their share of strange games this season, but allowing North Dakota (23-4-1, 17-4-1) to come back — defending national champions or not — made Sunday’s loss all the worse.
Woog admitted the Sioux were the better team, but in both games in the series the Gophers had a chance to win and saw it slip out of their hands.
Meanwhile, North Dakota continues to roll. The sweep provided a four-point cushion over second-place Wisconsin with six games to play.
Blais credited the Sioux’s up-tempo game and “a little luck” for their success this weekend. A frustrated Woog, however, said it was something else.
“We’re worrying about getting more size in our lineup,” Woog said, “but I think we need more in our arteries.”

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 1 1 0 — 2
UND 2 0 2 — 4

First Period: UND — Blake (Hoogsteen, Je. Panzer) 0:49, PPG. Min — Hankinson (Kraft) 12:56, PPG. UND — Vig (unassisted) 16:18.
Second Period: Min — N. Miller (Westrum, Kohn) 18:35, PPG.
Third Period: UND — Ja. Panzer (unassisted) 5:30. UND — Je. Ulmer (Henderson) 19:53, ENG.
A-6,067.

SUNDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 3 0 0 — 3
UND 0 0 5 — 5

First Period: Min — Berg (Spehar, Abrahamson) 6:48. Min — Kohn (Smith, Kraft) 7:46. Min — N. Miller (Miskovich, Westrum) 8:58.
Second Period: No scoring.
Third Period: UND — Murphy (Ja. Panzer, Je. Panzer) 6:42, PPG. UND — Je. Panzer (Ja. Panzer, Bull) 9:46. UND — Blake (Murphy) 10:56. UND — Ja. Panzer (Bull, Vig) 14:38. UND — Henderson (unassisted) 18:05, ENG