Connolly’s five goals push UMD over Gophers

Minnesota tied the Bulldogs on Friday, but couldn’t stop their offensive surge on Saturday.

First year forward Nick Bjugstad takes a shot against University of Minnesota Duluth on Saturday at the Amsoil Arena in Duluth Minn.

Max Caven, For The Daily

First year forward Nick Bjugstad takes a shot against University of Minnesota Duluth on Saturday at the Amsoil Arena in Duluth Minn.

by John Hageman

DULUTH, MINN. âÄî After three games filled with edge-of-your-seat excitement that rivaled a Michael Bay film adaptation of a Stephen King novel, early indications pointed to the fourth and final installment this season of the Gophers-Bulldogs rivalry being a blowout.

A tense, tightly contested 2-2 tie Friday night gave way to a Mike Connolly hat trick not 22 minutes into SaturdayâÄôs game, giving Minnesota-Duluth an early 3-0 lead. The home crowd loved every second, and it appeared one team would finally get the best of the other.

Not so fast.

After matching the BulldogsâÄô early in the game and not being rewarded for their effort, the Gophers finally broke through with a goal from defender Kevin Wehrs 33 seconds after Connolly sent hats flying onto the ice. Minutes later, Mike Hoeffel buried a rebound attempt and pulled the Gophers within one goal.

What looked like a blowout turned into barnburner in a matter of minutes.

It was naive to think it would be any other way. After all, a month earlier the Gophers and Bulldogs were separated by just one goal after two games at Mariucci Arena.

It looked like the Gophers completed the comeback when Pat White snuck a rebound attempt past BulldogsâÄô goalie Aaron Crandall. But the game-tying goal was nullified because Nico Sacchetti was pushed into Crandall, and was called for goaltender interference.

âÄúIt was a tough call,âÄù Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. âÄú[Sacchetti] was doing the right thing, he was going to the net, trying to make a play.âÄù

Connolly scored the fourth of his five goals just minutes later, giving Minnesota-Duluth some cushion at 4-2.

The Gophers made it a one-goal game twice more, adding to the suspense, but came up short when Connolly added his final goal on an empty net in the waning seconds. His five goals matched a team record set by Steve âÄúPokeyâÄù Trachsel in 1972.

Before SaturdayâÄôs game, Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin put his top three scorers, Mike and Jack Connolly (no relation) and Justin Fontaine, on the same line, creating all the offense the Bulldogs needed. It was the first time in about a month the three have played together.

âÄúThere are not a lot of lines like that in college hockey,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúThey can do things that most players canâÄôt.âÄù

The Gophers also put their top two scorers in Jacob Cepis and Jay Barriball on the same line Saturday, but Barriball came out of the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury. Lucia said he was going to be evaluated early in the week.

Once again Saturday, the two in-state rivals gave the fans some excitement.

âÄúIâÄôm assuming it was a fun game to watch, because it was a fun game to play in,âÄù Gophers defenseman Cade Fairchild said.

The same could be said for Friday nightâÄôs slugfest, but for different reasons.

Both teams alternated goals while goaltenders Kent Patterson and Kenny Reiter fought off a combined 80 shots on goal in a 2-2 tie. The scoreless third period was filled with the gasps and groans of the crowd as numerous shots from both teams failed to find their way into the back of the net.

âÄúIt was probably a fun game for the fans,âÄù Lucia said Friday. âÄúGuys tried to make plays, and there were mistakes made, but that makes for an entertaining game.âÄù

Indeed, the fans at the brand-new Amsoil Arena got their moneyâÄôs worth with two heated rivalry games, but for obvious reasons, it doesnâÄôt help the Gophers at all.

One week after splitting with Alaska Anchorage at home, the Gophers have fallen behind the Seawolves in the WCHA standings. Minnesota stands alone in eighth place with 19 points.

Now in what might be their toughest stretch of games this season, the Gophers are in need of wins. And fast.

âÄúWe got to start getting wins,âÄù Barriball said Friday. âÄúItâÄôs as simple as that.âÄù