Gophers fail to get to .500 with split in Alaska

Alaska-Anchorage scored 23 seconds apart Saturday to skate away with victory.

by Lou Raguse

For Minnesota’s men’s hockey team this season, scoring four goals in a game translates into wins. But four goals were not enough Saturday, when the Gophers (7-8-1, 4-7-1 WCHA) lost to Alaska-Anchorage (5-7-2, 2-6-2) by a 6-4 score, a night after shutting out the Seawolves 4-0.

Minnesota hoped to climb above .500 with two wins in the weekend series. After Friday’s blowout, it appeared the Gophers were well on their way to a winning record. However, Minnesota did not bring the same intensity playing in a half-empty Sullivan Arena and left Alaska with a slightly disappointing split.

“(Seawolves coach) John Hill told me that this was the hardest his team has played in a couple years,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We didn’t play with as much determination on Saturday, and I think being on the road four weeks out of the last five took its toll on us.”

After giving up 43 shots to the Gophers on Friday, Alaska-Anchorage made some defensive adjustments for the following game. Although allowing four goals, the Seawolves limited Minnesota to a modest 17 shots.

Minnesota quickly fell behind 2-0 on Saturday, but the Gophers made a strong run to get back in the game. Matt Koalska and Troy Riddle scored, then a pair of Gino Guyer goals gave Minnesota a 4-2 lead.

But Alaska cut the lead to one on a power-play goal with 51 seconds remaining in the second period.

Lucia was not impressed with the performance of his defensive corps, who he said played one of their poorest games of the season.

“Obviously we were disappointed to put ourselves in that position with kind of a senseless penalty,” Lucia said. “But to their credit, they had momentum and played the body real hard all game long and we didn’t play as tight as we needed to play.”

The Seawolves added two more even-strength goals within 23 seconds of each other in the third period and after earning their sixth goal on an empty-netter, skated away with the victory.

Minnesota’s WCHA-leading power play unit was out in full force the whole weekend, capitalizing on five of eight opportunities, and it was especially effective Friday.

Keith Ballard, Riddle, and Barry Tallackson all scored power-play goals before Thomas Vanek’s even-strength netter sealed the game with 4:60 left in the third period.

“We started out strong and everything went right,” Matt Koalska said of Friday’s performance. “We were a little sloppy at the end, but that’s what happens when you’re up 4-0.”

Minnesota plays host to an

exhibition game on Thursday against the Latvian National Team, then the Holiday Classic on Dec. 20-21 before taking a week off for holiday break.

“This is the end of the last little road grind for us,” Riddle said. “It will be nice get home, get ready for the holiday tournament and then get a little time off.”

Vanek hurt

Vanek, who scored one goal and assisted on three others in the weekend series, sat out much of the third period Saturday with an injury.

Although Lucia cannot comment on details of the ailment, he said it is not too serious.