Offensive outburst ends DU dominance

The Gophers hadn’t scored three goals in one period since November; on Saturday, they did so twice and earned a split.

Austin Cumblad

Frustration and desperation proved an explosive cocktail Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers were badly in need of WCHA wins. Denver, chasing its second-straight MacNaughton Cup, was on the heels of a tight, 2-1 win Friday night.

Like any team with its back against the wall, Minnesota came out firing. The Gophers scored three goals in one period for the first time since mid-November, then did it again the very next period. No. 4 Denver grew increasingly frustrated until emotions boiled over into a brawl at 8:16 of the third that sent MinnesotaâÄôs Jake Hansen and DenverâÄôs David Makowski to the showers.

When play resumed, the Gophers cruised to a 7-3 win on Hockey Day in Minnesota to earn a split and stay in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs, meanwhile halting a stretch of PioneersâÄô dominance that stretched back more than two years.

âÄúI think weâÄôre playing our best hockey right now,âÄù said senior defenseman Cade Fairchild, who had a goal and three assists Saturday. âÄúWeâÄôve been on a steady incline thus far, weâÄôve lost a couple games, but I think weâÄôve played good games overall. IâÄôm excited heading into the postseason.âÄù

Entering the series, Denver was 5-0 in the teamsâÄô last five meetings dating back to Nov. 22, 2008. It appeared Friday that this year would be much of the same, as Pioneers freshman goalie Sam Brittain tied a career high with 36 saves. BrittainâÄôs performance recalled the stingy efforts of his predecessor, Marc Chevrie, who allowed just two goals during DenverâÄôs five-game streak against the Gophers.

At the same time, another freshman was skating circles around MinnesotaâÄôs defenders.

With Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher in the building, DenverâÄôs Jason Zucker âÄì a second-round Wild pick in 2010 âÄì scored the game-winner and assisted the PioneersâÄô first goal.

âÄú[Jason] has had a tremendous start to his college career. When he gets the puck, he starts to accelerate, and itâÄôs tough to slow him down,âÄù Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. âÄúHe obviously made a big play, on something that coming up the ice didnâÄôt look very dangerous.âÄù

Zucker added another assist Saturday, but it was buried by MinnesotaâÄôs highest-scoring game since a 9-4 win at Colorado College, the team the GophersâÄô trail by a point in the race for home ice.

Without seniors Jay Barriball (injured), Nico Sacchetti (illness) or Kevin Wehrs (healthy scratch), seven different players scored and four skaters had multiple-point games.

âÄúWe read the offensive manual and shared it today,âÄù Minnesota head coach Don Lucia joked after the win, later adding, âÄúWeâÄôre not the type of team where one guyâÄôs got 20 goals, so we have to score by committee.âÄù

Less than ten minutes into the game, seniors Jacob Cepis and Taylor Matson staked Minnesota a two-goal lead, scoring from nearly the exact same spot on the ice within a 56 second span. Freshmen Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula scored the next two. HaulaâÄôs, at 0:33 of the second period, prompted BrittainâÄôs early exit.

BrittainâÄôs replacement, Adam Murray, gave up goals to seniors Mike Hoeffel, Cade Fairchild and Patrick White over the final two periods.

âÄúWhen you have a breakout game like tonight, you kind of think to yourself, âÄòWe can do it every night,âÄôâÄù Fairchild said. âÄúBut the fact of the matter is that our league is so good that even if we played [Denver] tomorrow, I donâÄôt think weâÄôd beat them 7-3 again. It would be a close game.âÄù

Minnesota is 3-3-2 against the WCHAâÄôs top 3 teams this season and 6-7-1 against the rest. ItâÄôs clear on any given night the Gophers can beat the conferenceâÄôs âÄî and by extension, the nationâÄôs âÄî best teams. But offensive breakouts like SaturdayâÄôs have been few and far between. The question now is whether they can put together a run in the seasonâÄôs final weeks and carry it into the WCHA playoffs.

Denver dropped to one point out of first place in the conference.

âÄúIâÄôm glad Hockey Day in Minnesota is only once a year,âÄù Gwozdecky said.