Gophers go from blah to boom

by Michael Rand

On Friday night, less than 24 hours before the Gophers hockey team honored some of the greatest players in the program’s 75-year history, members of the current squad skated off the ice to a theme much different from the famous “Pride on Ice” slogan.
Try embarrassment on ice, or lack of emotion on ice.
Either of those two would have worked much better to describe the Gophers performance in an 8-4 loss to Minnesota-Duluth, as well as many of the team’s other recent performances.
But as the two teams’ benches emptied and players spilled into their respective locker rooms, UMD coach Mike Sertich uttered a very important question to Gophers coach Doug Woog: Where’s the 75 years of pride?
“I was bothered by that,” Woog said. “What Serty did was, to me, a favor. It’s so easy to think (the tradition) has eroded. When people belittle it a bit, the defenses rise up.”
Several Gophers heard Sertich’s comments Friday night and the rest of the team read his lips on a video replay in the locker room on Saturday afternoon. That, combined with a locker room speech by former Minnesota standout Neal Broten and the presence of several other ex-Gophers gave the team an emotional edge it has lacked for several weeks.
The team skated hard for all 60 minutes. Players gave each other pats on the back as they passed between shifts. The result was a 7-1 victory and the team’s most impressive all-around effort in months.
“It’s been a long time since we really beat up on a team and had a good feeling about three periods of hockey,” Gophers goalie Steve DeBus said.
Gophers forward Ryan Kraft said it was the best the team has played since defeating Michigan State 5-3 on Nov. 30 in the College Hockey Showcase.
The win ended a stretch that saw Minnesota go 2-5 against WCHA teams with winning records. It also kept the Gophers just three points back of North Dakota, which split with Northern Michigan this weekend.
More importantly, however, it helped the Gophers players erase some of the pain they felt after Friday’s game.
After jumping out to a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period of the series opener, Minnesota went into a tailspin. Two goals by UMD’s Mike Peluso tied the score early in the second period. Then, with the score 3-3 and 11:20 left in the period, the public address announcer at Mariucci Arena announced that Northern Michigan had defeated North Dakota.
The crowd erupted, knowing that a Minnesota win would move the team to within one point of the Sioux. Co-captain Mike Crowley said the players heard it. Yet it still failed to spark the team.
The Bulldogs continued to riddle DeBus with shots, and by the end of the period they had turned a two-goal deficit into a 6-3 lead. Minnesota’s brief rally in the third period fell far short of its mark.
The phrases “I don’t know what to say” and “It’s just frustrating” were common after the game. The atmosphere after Saturday’s game was the polar opposite.
“The all-around effort was so much better tonight,” said Kraft who had a career-high five points (one goal, four assists) in the game.
Kraft also spoke about the impact that Broten’s words had on the him and the rest of the team.
“It was just incredible. It’s hard to describe,” he said. “It gave me the chills.”
Outside the visiting team’s locker room, the scene was very different.
Sertich said he was baffled by the five power play goals his team allowed on 15 chances — opportunities which, in many cases, were created by stupid penalties.
“That’s like playing Russian roulette with an Uzi,” he said. “It’s never happened to me in 25 years. We didn’t play. We didn’t compete. It’s a personal kick in the teeth.”
Maybe Sertich was kicking himself when he realized that the team he helped inspire to victory on Saturday was not his own.
Note: Gophers forward Nick Checco left Friday’s game with a strained neck and did not play Saturday. He will be re-evaluated this week.

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
UMD 1 5 2 — 8
Gophers 3 0 1 — 4

First Period: UMD — Haakstad 4 (Petrov, Peluso), :36. Min — Kraft 18 (LaFleur, Smith), 6:02. Min — Spehar 12 (Kohn, Crowley) PPG, 10:32. Min — Abrahamson 5 (J. Godbout), 12:32.
Second Period: UMD — Peluso 17 (Mrozik) PPG, 4:42. UMD — Peluso 18 (Dzikowski, Gilling), 7:48. UMD — Bois 8 (Mrozik, Anderson), 12:02. UMD — Lidster 4 (Anderson) PPG, 18:02. UMD — Doell 6 (Vikman), 19:23.
Third Period: Min — Checco 4 (LaFleur, Berg), :44. UMD — Gilling 1 (unassisted) ENG, 17:56. UMD — Dzikowski 14 (unassisted), 19:11.
A-9,819.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
UMD 0 0 1 — 1
Gophers 3 3 1 — 7

First Period: Min — Anderson 8 (LaFleur, Kraft), :46. Min — Spehar 13 (Kohn, Berg) PPG, 9:33. Min — LaFleur 7 (Crowley, Kraft) PPG, 10:19.
Second Period: Min — Spehar 14 (Kraft, LaFleur) PPG, :38. Min — Kraft 19 (Anderson, Crowley) PPG, 3:12. Min — Smith 10 (Kraft), 12:36.
Third Period: Min — Hankinson 11 (Spehar, Berg) PPG, 11:17. UMD — Federenko 9 (Scissons, Taus), 18:02.
A-9,886.