Late rallies fail twice as Gophers swept by UNO

by Austin Cumblad

The Gophers would like their first periods back, please.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha, a new arrival to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association âÄì though youâÄôd never know it âÄì scored a combined five first period goals and swept Minnesota, 5-4 and 4-2, in its first ever WCHA series.

“It was their first WCHA game, they wanted to come out here and prove they should be in this league,âÄù senior winger Jacob Cepis said after Friday nightâÄôs game. âÄúThe problem is, we werenâÄôt ready for it.âÄù

Another problem: the same could be said on Saturday.

The Gophers could have played alternating roles in âÄúGroundhog Day.âÄù Bill Murray when the Mavericks scampered out to a quick lead on Friday, then did the same Saturday; Punxsutawney Phil himself when they emerged from their hole only to have UNO shove them right back in with a late goal.

Minnesota poked its head out Friday night with senior Jay BarriballâÄôs game-tying goal 16:46 into the third period, but UNOâÄôs Alex Hudson knocked the Gophers out with his second goal of the game 96 seconds before the final horn. Despite a furious final minute and a half, Minnesota couldnâÄôt muster one more comeback.

âÄúYouâÄôve got to win those games, as crazy as it sounds,âÄù Cepis said.

It sounds crazy because the Gophers should never have had a chance to win. They trailed by four late in the second and seemed unable to muster any semblence of offense. And sixteen and a half minutes into the period, it looked as though they were about to squander a two minute 5-on-3 power play.

Not 30 seconds after the MavericksâÄô 6-foot-3-inch, 213 pound Michael Young flattened 5-foot-8-inch, 170 pound Cepis into the boards and received a five minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head, UNO was whistled for too many men on the ice. The Gophers had already spent most of the period on the power play without anything to show for it, and the clock ticked down to 10 seconds remaining on the two-man advantage before freshman Nate Condon swatted in a rebound for his first career goal.

But that goal changed the game. Minnesota out-skated the Mavericks for the next 20 minutes and scored three more times to level the score. But sloppy play by the Gophers in their defensive zone allowed Hudson to slip the game-winner past senior goalkeeper Alex Kangas.

âÄúI liked the way that they competed from start to finish, but youâÄôve got to make smart decisions at a critical point in the game,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said.

Saturday unfolded in much the same way. UNO scored twice in the first period and once in the second and entered the third period in firm control of the game. Then, senior Kevin Wehrs swatted two slapshots from the blue-line; one went in, the other was deflected past MavericksâÄô goaltender John Faulkner by freshman Erik Haula. A night after Condon, it was HaulaâÄôs first career goal as well.

Again it appeared the game might swing in MinnesotaâÄôs favor, but Rich Purslow potted an empty-netter to clinch for UNO, his second goal and fourth point of the weeeknd.

Neither performance by the Gophers was quite as futile as the 3-0 loss to North Dakota that they opened the WCHA season with last year, but they were on the road and at least able to muster a point in that series. MinnesotaâÄôs slow start in each game extrapolated into another slow start to the season and now sends the season in the wrong direction as soon as itâÄôs begun.

On Saturday, Lucia was asked what the key was to getting off to faster starts. âÄúThatâÄôs a good question,âÄù he said.

One the Gophers would like to answer real soon.