Sweep sees playoff chances fading

The Gophers lost both games to St. Cloud despite entering on a high note.

Minnesota forward Nico Sacchetti reacts after St. Cloud State scores their third goal Friday at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

Image by Matt Mead

Minnesota forward Nico Sacchetti reacts after St. Cloud State scores their third goal Friday at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

by Max Sanders

Getting swept during the stretch of the regular season is tough enough. The fact that the opponent is an in-state rival who happens to be ranked No. 12 in the country only makes it worse. St. Cloud State halted the momentum of the Gophers menâÄôs hockey team with a home-and-home sweep, 4-3 and 4-1, over the weekend. âÄúOur guys are frustrated,âÄù Minnesota menâÄôs head coach Don Lucia said. âÄúI thought they played well all weekend long; there was just no reward this weekend. That happens sometimes.âÄù The Gophers (12-12-2, 7-9-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) tried to use quantity over quality on the offensive front against the No. 12 St. Cloud State. Minnesota managed 85 shots on goal in the series, although Lucia estimated his team attempted 160 total shots in two games. St. Cloud State (16-7-3, 11-5-2 WCHA) responded to the GophersâÄô barrage each night by scoring early and often, forcing Minnesota to attempt comebacks instead of preserve leads. FridayâÄôs game in St. Cloud had all the makings of a rout, after the Huskies scored three goals in the first period. The first goal came seven minutes into the game when Huskies forward Jared Festler won a battle for the puck on the right corner of the GophersâÄô zone and found a streaking Garrett Raboin in the slot. Raboin put the puck past a defenseless Gophers goalie Alex Kangas for the score. Festler picked up his second point of the period nine minutes later, when Huskies forward Ryan Lasch got Kangas to commit left and passed the puck to Festler, who had the easy tip-in to put the lead at two. The Huskies scored their third goal with just eight seconds remaining in the first period. Forward Garrett Roe stole the puck at center ice, sparking a breakaway opportunity. Chased by two Minnesota defensemen, Roe put a shot past Kangas to give St. Cloud State a commanding lead going into the first intermission. The Gophers responded two minutes into the second period, when senior forward Tony Lucia scored his seventh goal of the season. After a Huskies goal pushed the lead back to three, Gophers junior forward Jacob Cepis and sophomore forward Jake Hansen each put the puck past St. Cloud State goalie Dan Dunn to cut a seemingly insurmountable lead to a manageable one-goal margin heading into the third period. But the three-goal first period proved to be enough for St. Cloud State, as neither team managed a goal in the final period and the Huskies walked away with a 4-3 win. Don Lucia was quick to point out after the game that the comeback had still ended with no points to his teamâÄôs record. âÄúA loss is a loss,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúThe bottom line is weâÄôve got to win where weâÄôre at right now. The good news is that we continue to play well âĦ Now we have to play more consistent defensively; we just canâÄôt give up four goals.âÄù SaturdayâÄôs contest at Mariucci Arena virtually mirrored the previous nightâÄôs game with the Huskies, again putting the Gophers in an early hole. St. Cloud State scored two first-period goals, the first coming on a power play when Huskies defenseman Taylor JohnsonâÄôs shot from inside the dot of the left faceoff circle went high and past Kangas into the net. Huskies forward David Eddy scored the second goal when his shot bounced off Kangas and rolled into the net for the score. Unlike Friday night, however, Minnesota couldnâÄôt fight back in the second period. The Huskies added a third goal just five minutes into the second period, when Lasch shot a centering pass to a streaking Festler, who fired a one-timer from the slot past a defenseless Kangas for the goal. The Gophers cut the lead to two when junior defenseman Cade Fairchild scored on a one-timer from sophomore defenseman Aaron Ness . It was the only mistake in a stellar night for Huskies goalie Mike Lee , a freshman who made 42 saves to help the Huskies earn a 4-1 win and a four-point weekend. âÄúYouâÄôve got to give Mike Lee a lot of credit,âÄù Ness said. âÄúHe just made some big saves when they needed it.âÄù The sweep kept the Gophers with 16 points in the WCHA, where they stand in seventh place . Minnesota is running out of time to catch the competition. Seven of the final 10 games will be on the road, starting with a two-game series at Alaska Anchorage next weekend. Fairchild said every remaining game is critical to MinnesotaâÄôs postseason chances. âÄúThis obviously is a setback for us, but at the same time, itâÄôs not the end of the season,âÄù Fairchild said. âÄúWe still have 10 games left and we absolutely have to have a winning record coming out of that and get points every weekend.âÄù