Two things became evident during Minnesota’s weekend showing against No. 1 North Dakota, in which the Gophers lost Saturday 5-3 and tied Friday 4-4.
They know what it’s going to take to play with the best in the country, and what it takes to play takes a lot out of a team.
Minnesota stayed with the Sioux for the first two periods of Saturday’s loss, but thanks to a short bench, coach Doug Woog’s bunch could not hang with the deeper North Dakota team as the Gophers ran out of gas in the third period.
“It was probably due to the fact that our depth wasn’t as strong as their depth,” Woog said. “We were a little short-benched, which may have been a factor in our game.”
The Gophers played tough with the Sioux, utilizing their bigger bodies and forechecking ability to knock around North Dakota. But after the second period, the only thing that was knocked around was the head of North Dakota’s Jason Blake as he and Minnesota’s Erik Westrum got into a little scuffle with 33 seconds remaining in the game.
The fight earned Blake a roughing minor, while Westrum received a fighting major and a game disqualification. This means that the sophomore will miss Friday’s contest against Alaska-Anchorage.
Blake was instrumental in the Sioux’s victory as he scored an amazing goal late in the second period. The senior powered through a Mike Lyons hook, was undercut by Dave Spehar and still beat goaltender Adam Hauser through the legs to tie the score at 3-3.
“We’ve got to play three periods solidly,” Blake said. “Obviously, last night we dominated the first period, up 3-0. We came out in the second period and played awful, but they took it to us.”
Blake couldn’t have been more accurate about what happened Friday night.
Minnesota was dominated in the first period, and it looked like the woes of the Colorado College series would continue. But the Gophers furiously came back with pounding forechecks and a defense that wouldn’t allow the Sioux any meaningful time in the Minnesota zone.
The fever pitch of the second and third period of Friday’s game was described by senior winger Mike Anderson as “the loudest I have ever heard it in here, except maybe two years ago when we won the WCHA.”
The Gophers also received something they haven’t seen in a long time — goals from defensemen.
Freshman Jordan Leopold and sophomore Dylan Mills each scored power play goals. The two goals by the defensemen marked the first time the defense scored two goals in a game since Brian LeFleur and Mike Crowley scored March 14, 1997.
“You saw some of that raw emotion,” Woog said. “It’s a little early for us to put up fort.”
But emotion can only take you so far, as was evident in Saturday night’s loss.
Minnesota came out with the same fury and emotion that propelled them to the tie Friday, but fatigue and lack of depth caught up with the Gophers.
Minnesota does not have the horses to run with a team like the Sioux. But the Gophers do have a better idea of the effort it takes to become the No. 1 team in the nation.
“It’s a matter of our freshman forwards playing well enough so we can use them,” Woog said. “The shortening of our bench centered on the inability of our bottom line. The difference in the series is that their bottom group was stronger than our bottom group.”
The Gophers are a very young team, but the majority of their scoring still comes from the upperclassmen.
Senior Reggie Berg, who scored a goal and two assists Friday, said he understands why the Gophers fell apart in the third period. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“It was probably a little bit of fatigue,” Berg said. “But we have to start pulling these games out.”
North Dakota 0 3 2 — 5
Gophers 0 2 0 — 3
FIRST PERIOD: No scoring.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Mills 2 (Smith 7, Spehar 8), 2:15. UND — Je. Panzer (Mazurak), 7:05. Minn — Miskovich 5 (Spehar 9, Trebil 1), 10:56. UND — Defauw (Ja. Ulmer, Ja. Panzer), PPG, 12:09. Minn — N. Miller 4 (Westrum 3, Miskovich 1), PPG, 14:03. UND — Blake (Bull, Hammer), 18:46.
THIRD PERIOD: UND — Je. Panzer (Hoogsteen, Williamson), 5:22. UND — Calder (Je. Ulmer), ENG, 18:56.
North Dakota 3 0 1 0 — 4
Gophers 0 1 3 0 — 4
FIRST PERIOD: UND — Goren (Bull, Hammer), 1:56. UND — Blake (Goren, Je. Ulmer), PPG, 3:01. UND — Bull (Goren, Ja. Ulmer), 13:26.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Leopold 1 (Spehar 5), PPG, 14:50.
THIRD PERIOD: UND — Calder (unassisted), 1:49. Minn — Mills 1 (Spehar 6, Berg 7), PPG, 7:33. Minn — Smith 6 (Berg 8, Lyons 1), 15:08. Minn — Berg 5 (Spehar 7, Smith 6), 16:24.
OVERTIME: No scoring.