Gophers and Huskies see unbeaten streaks come to an end as season’s second half begins

Both teams recorded shutouts following their streak-ending losses.

Mark Remme

If last weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association showdowns are any indication of what’s in store for the rest of the season, 2006-2007 is shaping up to be a gem.

Two national powerhouses, No. 1 Minnesota and then-No. 4 St. Cloud State, both lost on Friday for the first time since Oct. 6 and Nov. 3, respectively. Both happened in spectacular fashion.

While the Gophers lost their 22-game unbeaten streak to unranked Wisconsin, 2-1, the Huskies blew a three-goal lead in the third period at home against Minnesota State-Mankato, ultimately losing 6-4. It ended a 12-game winning streak for St. Cloud State.

More importantly, it gave a boost of life to a Mavericks team which, at 5-10-3 in WCHA play, has played well against top-ranked teams but seemed unable to win close battles.

“When we made it 4-2, we could sense a new energy on the bench and (again) when we made it 4-3,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said. “I think when you haven’t scored and you score a couple goals, it energizes your team.”

But the Gophers and Huskies proved Saturday why they are top-10 teams.

Minnesota relied heavily on sophomore netminder Jeff Frazee and earned a split at the Kohl Center with a 1-0 victory.

Not to be outdone, St. Cloud State senior goaltender Bobby Goepfert rebounded from an uncharacteristic five goals allowed in Friday night’s third period, earning an epic 0-0 draw in Mankato.

His counterpart, Mavericks sophomore goaltender Mike Zacharias, was equally brilliant, stopping all 29 shots he faced while Goepfert stoned 23 of his own.

Perhaps the intensity and resilience displayed by all teams in the conference, despite rank or record, prove why the WCHA produces such difficult teams to beat in postseason tournaments. Seemingly every game in the second half of the season has a certain playoff passion to it.

“It’s that second half of the year – this is already starting to be playoff hockey,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said after defeating the Gophers on Friday.

And if March hockey can outdo the quality of last weekend’s play, get ready for a wild postseason.

“The first half is great, but the second half has a certain sort of intensity,” Jutting said. “You get to a point where you realize every point is critical. It magnifies the mistakes and it magnifies the importance of every game.”

Two Sioux earn honors

Two North Dakota players joined one Denver freshman in earning WCHA Player of the Week honors.

Sioux sophomore winger Ryan Duncan earned WCHA Offensive Player of the Week by scoring three goals and one assist in North Dakota’s series with Alaska-Anchorage last weekend, a tilt in which the Sioux earned three of four possible points.

Joining his teammate is junior Robbie Bina, a blue-liner who earned four points and a +3 plus/minus rating during the series while earning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

Joining the North Dakota duo is Denver freshman center Tyler Ruegsegger as WCHA Rookie of the Week.

Ruegsegger scored three goals, two of which were game-winners, in the Pioneers’ sweep of Niagara last weekend.