A big three points in the Rockies

Chris Lempesis

DENVER ” After skating to a 3-3 draw with Denver on Friday, Minnesota’s men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said the outcome of Saturday’s contest would determine how good ” or bad ” the weekend ultimately was.

At the end of the first 20 minutes Saturday, it looked like the weekend out west was going to be a bust for the Gophers.

But just when it seemed like the Gophers were headed for another one-point road weekend, a completely different team hit the ice for the final two periods and the result ” a Minnesota victory.

The 10th-ranked Gophers tallied four of the game’s final five goals on their way to a 4-3 win over the No. 11 Pioneers at Magness Arena.

“It’s a difficult building to come in and play. It hasn’t been kind to us the last five to six years,” Lucia said, referencing Minnesota’s 2-6-0 record at Magness during his tenure as coach.

“It was a hard fought series and fortunately we made a couple plays in the third period to win the game.”

Before the Gophers (6-3-3, 6-2-2 WCHA) could win the game in the third, they first made a couple of plays in the second to pull themselves back from the brink.

Minnesota got a goal from sophomore defenseman Alex Goligoski early and one from sophomore forward Mike Howe late to make it a 2-2 game going into the third.

While a pair of sophomores were responsible for evening the score, it took the efforts of all but one sophomore to give Minnesota the win.

The third period saw forward Kris Chucko, who had all of zero goals in his first 11 games of the season, firing two shots past Denver goaltender Peter Mannino. The goals couldn’t have come at a better time as Denver (5-5-2, 3-3-2) had regained the lead less than one minute into the third.

His first tally came at the 6:22 mark, nine seconds into a shorthanded situation. Chucko got to a loose puck in the circle to Mannino’s left and sniped a rocket top-shelf.

“Kris Chucko did a good job of taking advantage of the miscue we made,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “And (the goal) was a dandy.”

His second goal, the eventual game winner, came a little over midway through the third.

“That’s great for Kris,” junior forward Danny Irmen said of Chucko’s third period. “He’s worked so hard all year and came in great shape. And then to be in an 11-game slump, he just told me it’s the longest 11 games of his life.”

Chucko and company’s final two periods Saturday were in stark contrast to its final two, or really, three periods Friday.

After shooting out to a 2-0 lead in the first, the Gophers scored just one goal the rest of the way, eventually earning a tie.

By the time overtime came around, both teams appeared to be gassed and that was reflected in the fact that neither team had a shot on goal in the extra session.

Denver’s mile-high altitude more than likely was behind Minnesota’s tiring on Friday and Irmen said it’s actually tougher dealing with the altitude the second night.

Despite never fully coming to grips with that, as they return to a more normal elevation, the Gophers can sit back, knowing one thing for certain: The weekend in Denver was a good one.

“We gotta build off this,” freshman goalie Jeff Frazee said, “and keep going from here now.”