Minnesotas stars outshine Pioneers best

Chris Lempesis

For Minnesotaís menís hockey team: forwards Ryan Potulny, Danny Irmen and Phil Kessel and defensemen Chris Harrington and Alex Goligoski. Statistics coming into the weekend: 58 goals, 97 assists (155 points).

For Denver: forwards Gabe Gauthier, Paul Stastny and Ryan Dingle; defensemen Matt Carle and Chris Butler. Statistics coming into the weekend: 60 goals, 108 assists (168 points).

In terms of overall talent and statistics, between these two groups, it seemed like such a close matchup.

This weekend, however, it wasnít.

Minnesotaís top-end players were all over the ice ó and the stat sheet ó this weekend and Denverís players really werenít. That was perhaps the biggest reason why the Gophers swept the Pioneers at Mariucci Arena.

Minnesotaís bunch had five goals and 10 assists (15 points) while Denverís had just two goals and four assists (six points).

ìTheir top-end guys were very, very good both nights,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said after Saturdayís game.

ìAnd when you get down into games like this and series like this, especially at this time of year where youíre battling for position, not only in the league, but nationally, you have to have your top-end guys play the way they did. And they should be very proud of their performance.”

Potulny was the standout in the group Friday night. The junior continued his strong season by netting two goals, including the game-winner on the power play.

The remaining four Gophers were strongest Saturday.

After a rusty performance Friday, having missed time because of a separated shoulder, Irmen regained form. The junior scored two of Minnesotaís first three goals that came in the first 8:34 of the game.

Kessel almost solely was responsible for setting up two of the goals ó Irmenís second tally and another by Ben Gordon, on which he made a great pass in a 2-on-1 situation.

Goligoski ripped a one-timer past Denver goalie Peter Mannino for Minnesotaís final goal and added two assists. And Harrington had two assists, the first of which gave him 100 career points.

Potulny again was a factor Saturday, assisting on the Gophersí fourth goal by forward Ryan Stoa and turning in a textbook screen in front of Mannino on Goligoskiís goal.

ìOur go-to guys really made some plays,” said Harrington, who had three assists this weekend.

ìAnd those guys need to make those plays in order for us to be successful.”

Denverís group did not make many plays and, as a result, the Pioneers had little success.

Most surprising was the performance of Denverís biggest gun and the Western Collegiate Hockey Associationís leading scorer, junior defenseman Matt Carle.

Carle, considered the front-runner for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, was basically a non-factor in the series, totaling just one assist.

ìWe really keyed on him,” Goligoski said. ìWe wanted our forwards to finish all their checks on him because we know he logs a lot of minutes. He plays, like, 30 minutes a game. Just wear him down and be aware when heís out there on the ice and for the most part, I think we did that this weekend.”

Indeed they did. And Minnesotaís ability to shut down Carle and Co., gave its offense the chance to do what it does best: put up big numbers and lead the way.

ìYou win with great players, and weíve got some outstanding players,” coach Don Lucia said.