Men’s hockey loses pair of road games

Aaron Kirscht

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In 1806, when Zebulon Pike attempted to reach the mountain peak that would later bear his name, he said, “It can’t be done.”
The Gophers men’s hockey team must know how ol’ Zeb felt.
The obstacle that Minnesota faced over the weekend — a surging Colorado College team — proved equally insurmountable. The Tigers won twice, 4-3 and 9-6, to lock up home ice in the first round of the playoffs and continue to breathe the rarefied air of the WCHA’s upper division.
The Gophers, toiling in the shadows of Pike’s Peak, hit rock bottom. The sweep dropped Minnesota (14-20 overall, 10-16 WCHA) to six games below .500, and set team records for consecutive road losses (12) and most road losses in a season (13). The Gophers haven’t won away from Mariucci Arena since Nov. 7 at Wisconsin.
“Our destiny is in someone else’s hands right now,” said junior forward Wyatt Smith, who scored four goals and an assist in a losing effort on Saturday. “We obviously aren’t taking care of our end of the deal.”
Minnesota needed a sweep over Colorado College (20-11-3, 14-10-2) if it had any hope of securing a home series in the playoffs. But with Minnesota-Duluth’s shutout of North Dakota on Saturday, that goal passed the Gophers by. In fact, their effort in this series might have paved the way for a return trip to Colorado Springs in two weeks.
After playing an inspired third period on Friday that nearly got them back into the game they had been trailing all along, the Gophers came back the following night and immediately put up one of their worst periods of hockey all season.
Colorado College opened a 5-0 lead little more than 18 minutes into the game on only 14 shots, before junior forward Reggie Berg got Minnesota on the board with his 50th career goal. But the damage was done, leading Gophers coach Doug Woog to pull goaltender Steve DeBus in favor of redshirt freshman Erik Day to open the second period.
“I didn’t pull Stevie because of his performance,” Woog said. “I just wasn’t going to subject him to that situation for another 40 minutes. He’s going to be our goalie going into the playoffs, and I don’t see any reason why he should have to face to that kind of onslaught. Stevie knows it wasn’t his undoing tonight.”
Midway through the second period, the Gophers pulled to within two at 5-3 on a pair of goals by Smith. Then freshman Erik Westrum got into a scuffle with the Tigers’ Darren Clark and was called for a five-minute major penalty for grabbing Clark’s face mask.
The penalty proved to be one of the game’s more controversial, if not critical, calls.
“We both had each other by the face,” Westrum said. “He ripped my helmet off, and my helmet was on the ice before his was on the ice. It was kind of a crappy call, I thought, and so did the coach.”
Senior defenseman Brett Abrahamson put the Gophers in a deeper hole nine seconds after Clark’s penalty expired when he was called for roughing after the whistle. That gave Colorado College two more minutes of five-on-three hockey, and led to the first of four power play goals by the Tigers in the game’s final 30 minutes.
The Gophers battled their way through the blowout, closing to within 6-4 late in the second period. But another Colorado College power play goal pushed the lead back to three, leaving two third-period goals by Smith meaningless.
Woog spoke on Friday of sending signals to the Tigers should they meet again in the playoffs. Allowing them to score at will isn’t the best message to send, but Woog said the Gophers showed that they, too, could score.
“They have to be a little concerned about their defense,” he said. “In the last four periods, we generated much more offensive opportunities than they did. We were able to penetrate their defense and we were able to penetrate their goalie, and I think that bodes well if we have to come back here.”
With fifth place in the hands of the Bulldogs, the battle is underway for sixth and seventh place. The seventh-place Gophers share a home-and-home series with St. Cloud this weekend, while sixth-place Michigan Tech heads to Colorado College. If both series result in a split, Michigan Tech will head to Minnesota-Duluth and the Gophers will book a return flight to Colorado Springs.
“We’re going to be on the road no matter what,” Smith said, “and I know a lot of guys would love to come back here. We should beat this team.”

Gophers 1 0 2 — 3
CC 1 2 1 — 4

FIRST PERIOD: CC — Petersen (S. Swanson), 10:00. Minn — Spehar (Kohn), 15:42.
SECOND PERIOD: CC — Kryway (S. Swanson), 10:09. CC — Bodtker (unassisted), 16:30.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Smith (unassisted), 0:25. CC — Petersen (Bodtker, Voorhees), 3:06. Minn — Westrum (unassisted), SHG 5:51.

Gophers 1 3 2 — 6
CC 5 2 2 — 9

FIRST PERIOD: CC — B. Swanson (Johnson), 1:11. CC — Voorhees (Petersen, Bodtker), 9:58. CC — S. Swanson (Clark, B. Swanson), 12:54. CC — Clark (Manning), 4-on-4 16:40. CC — Morrison (Tanberg), 18:24. Minn — Berg (Kohn, Westrum), 19:48.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Smith (Kraft), 5:55. Minn — Smith (Spehar), 8:24. CC — Clark (Cugnet), 5-on-3 PPG 12:29. Minn — Pagel (Smith), 17:27. CC — Gudmundson (S. Swanson), PPG 19:15.
THIRD PERIOD: CC — Bodtker (Voorhees, Petersen), PPG 3:35. Minn — Smith (Spehar, Kraft), PPG 9:43. CC — Kryway (Clark, B. Swanson), PPG 12:18. Minn — Smith (unassisted), 4-on-4 17:33.