Gophers, Mavericks play to pair of ties in important series

by Adam Fink

A weekend starting with excitement over the return of a marquee player ended with disappointment for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team.

Grant Potulny returned to the seventh-ranked Gophers lineup after a three-month layoff, but even the junior captain couldn’t find the back of the net when the game was on the line.

And while the Gophers dominated statistically, the only authority they showed came during the many fights that marred the weekend series with Minnesota State-Mankato.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s 4-4 matinee, Minnesota earned only two points for a weekend it targeted to sweep. The Mavericks, including Friday’s 2-2 tie, stretched their unbeaten streak to 11 games.

“We had our chances,” coach Don Lucia said. “We had good energy and I thought we played well. Sometimes things aren’t going to go your way.”

The final missed opportunity of Saturday’s came with 45 seconds remaining in regulation. Potulny stole the puck near his own blue line and sent the puck toward the Mavericks vacant net attempting to seal the victory.

However, the puck missed the open goal by one foot to the left and 20 seconds later Minnesota State-Mankato’s Jeff Marler beat goaltender Travis Weber for the tying score.

Dating back to the St. Cloud State game on Jan. 3, the Gophers (12-6-7, 7-4-5 WCHA) have allowed a goal in the final two minutes in five of their past six contests.

“We played hard and to come away with only two points is disappointing,” said forward Jon Waibel, who made an assist on teammate Jake Fleming’s goal that gave Minnesota a 4-3 lead. “I really thought we were going to win the game.”

When it came down to scoring, it didn’t matter that Minnesota outshot Minnesota State-Mankato 83-51 for the weekend. It also didn’t matter how many posts the Gophers hit (six).

It came down to special teams.

Of the Mavericks six goals, four came on the power play, one came with both teams playing short a man and the last came with the goaltender on the bench.

“Special teams were excellent for us,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said. “We got outplayed but that made up for it.”

Allowing late goals and losing the special teams battles caused the Gophers emotions to boil over.

The Gophers were called for seven roughing penalties and a game misconduct.

The second period of Friday night’s game featured 19 penalties, including a stretch where six of the seven penalties called were against Minnesota.

For a time, both penalty boxes contained four players forcing the Mariucci Arena staff to bring in folding chairs.

At one point, Minnesota State-Mankato (10-7-9, 8-5-7) scored on the 5-on-3 power play and still had a 5-on-3 advantage.

“It must have been a tough game to officiate,” said Potulny, who notched two assists in the series. “We could have folded but the team responded.”

Such resiliency – along with high energy from the start, strong defense for most of the series and consistency – has Minnesota believing it will turn the corner soon.

With memories of what could have been, this weekend’s series at conference doormat Alaska-Anchorage could provide the coming out party for Minnesota.

“We gave this series away,” Weber said. “But there were enough positives that I believe we are ready to get on a roll.”

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and

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