Shaky start for men’s hockey at Omaha tourney

by Lou Raguse

Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia summed up Friday’s 4-0 loss to Maine in one play.

A Keith Ballard pass 5:48 into the first period was deflected and converted into a Maine goal – one of many Minnesota turnovers contributing to Maine’s shutout.

Saturday’s game, on the other hand, could probably be summed up in 45 ways – the number of Minnesota shots Nebraska-Omaha goaltender Chris Holt had to deal with.

Seven of those shots went through the pipes as Minnesota defeated the Mavericks 7-3 for third place in the Maverick Stampede.

“I knew it was just a matter of time,” said Lucia, whose team didn’t get on the scoreboard until the last three minutes of the second period.

Minnesota was coming off an embarrassing loss to Maine the night before, in which the defending national champions were shut out for the first time since March 2001.

The Gophers were scoreless for almost another two periods and in danger of losing consecutive games for the first time since the same month two seasons ago.

But then Barry Tallackson slapped home the first goal of Minnesota’s 2003-04 campaign.

Despite trailing 3-0 at the time of Tallackson’s score, Minnesota had nearly twice as many shots on goal as Nebraska-Omaha.

“I was thinking that we’re playing a lot better than the score showed,” Lucia said. “We just needed that first one to get us off and running.”

With just 26 seconds remaining in the second period, junior defenseman Judd Stevens cut Nebraska-Omaha’s lead to one.

The night before, Ballard – an assistant captain – spoke frankly of his team’s performance in the loss to Maine.

“Maybe this is what we needed,” Ballard said. “Maybe it’s good to be humbled.”

After Saturday’s game, Ballard called Stevens’ goal the turning point of the game.

“Any time you get a goal at the end of a period, it gives your team momentum,” Ballard said.

After a couple near-goals, Ballard took a pass from Thomas Vanek and lifted the puck through to tie the score 4:24 into the third period.

The go-ahead goal came four minutes later as Gino Guyer fought through traffic and his slap shot found the back of the net.

“I almost whiffed on it, but I put it in,” Guyer said.

Minnesota exploded for three more goals before the final horn.

Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp, an assistant at Wisconsin for 14 years, was afraid of the Gophers scoring quick goals in a comeback situation.

“I’ve been around these Minnesota teams forever,” Kemp said. “Time and time again, once they get one, they get two quick ones.”

On Friday, Minnesota could mount no such rally, despite out-shooting Maine 8-4 in the third period.

“(A 4-0 deficit) wasn’t too much,” Ballard said. “We knew that we still could come back. It’s not like we were just out there trying to prevent the shutout.”

Because of a scheduling change this year, the Gophers must take four days off from practice this week, and they do not play this weekend.

Minnesota will resume play Oct. 24 when it plays host to Minnesota-Duluth.

“If there’s one thing we learned this weekend, it’s that we have to work no matter who we play,” Lucia said. “And in two weeks, we play a much better team in UMD.”