Hockey splits games at Showcase

Michael Rand

DETROIT — Phrases like “holding people accountable” and “pulling your own weight” dangled in the air the day after Minnesota’s 4-3 overtime loss to Michigan at the College Hockey Showcase in Detroit.
The Gophers came within an eyelash of beating the defending national champions, and they did it with one impressive line and three lines that seemingly forgot to remove their skate guards.
Erik Rasmussen — who scored all three Minnesota goals on Friday, including the game-tier with less than seven seconds left in regulation — and the rest of the first line played at a high level all night.
The second, third and fourth lines, however, were not doing their part. Consequently, players on those lines were on the receiving end of a Saturday afternoon hour-long reprimand from Minnesota coaches.
“It got a little personal,” said Wyatt Smith, who centered the third line against Michigan.
The gist of the message was this: The fate of the team cannot hang on a few shoulders.
A few hours later, the coaches’ words gained urgency.
Because of an ear infection, Rasmussen was scratched from Saturday’s lineup shortly before the start of the Gophers’ matchup with Michigan State. Rasmussen was all the team had the night before, and they were suddenly without him.
Gophers coach Doug Woog pondered and re-pondered his Rasmussen-less lineup. Then he sent his makeshift unit out and hoped for the best.
He got it.
The Gophers players awakened from their Friday slumber, rubbed their eyes and saw the ice sheet at Joe Louis Arena in a new light.
Instead of tip-toeing, they attacked. Crisp passes that set up scoring chances replaced broken-down three-on-two breaks. Gone was the bitter disappointment and should-haves from the night before. In its place was the satisfaction of a pivotal 5-3 victory over the Spartans.
“Coach told us that if all 20 of us picked up five percent of (Rasmussen’s) slack, we’d be all right,” Smith said.
Nate Miller opened the scoring with a one-timer from the left circle with a minute remaining in the first period. Ryan Kraft pushed the lead to 2-0 just 16 seconds later when his wrist shot sneaked past Michigan State goalie Chad Alban.
After Kraft’s goal, Woog whirled on the bench and pounded his fist against the Plexiglas. His expression conveyed a mixture of jubilation and relief; he had gotten a goal from his third line and one from his second line.
Michigan State cut Minnesota’s lead to 2-1 with 5:37 left in the second period, but just 24 seconds later Brian LaFleur pushed the Gophers’ lead back to two goals with a breakaway goal. When the Spartans cut the lead to 3-2 late in the period, LaFleur answered again 37 seconds later, this time on a backhander from deep in the left circle.
The momentum pendulum again swung back toward the Spartans in the third period when Mike York scored on a breakaway with 11:32 remaining in the game.
But as was the case the entire evening, Minnesota responded. When Smith buried a wrist shot with less than five minutes left the game was essentially over and the Gophers’ transformation from the previous night was officially complete.
“We shut them out emotionally, and that was very important,” Woog said.
In the Michigan game, it was Minnesota that was constantly battling back. The Gophers recovered from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits before losing on Brendan Morrison’s goal 51 seconds into overtime.
Despite Minnesota’s all-out performance against Michigan State, this weekend was disturbingly familiar to some players and coaches.
In each of the Gophers’ four weekends on the road, they’ve played better in the second game than in the first.
Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if Minnesota had played with the same intensity on Friday that it did on Saturday.
Instead of salvaging a split at the College Hockey Showcase, the Gophers may have swept the Michigan schools and earned valuable points with the NCAA tournament selection committee.
In a weekend full of speeches, Guentzel had the final word.
“Every time our backs are to the wall, we’ve come through,” he said after Saturday’s game. “But we need to start from the get-go instead of waiting around.”

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 1 0 2 0 — 3
Michigan 2 0 1 1 — 4

First Period: Minn. — Rasmussen 9 (Anderson), 0:23. Mich. — Morrison 6 (Muckalt, Herr), 5:12. Mich. — Botterill 8 (Luhning, Fox) PPG, 18:53.
Second Period: No scoring.
Third Period: Min. — Rasmussen 10 (Hankinson, Crowley), 0:18. Mich. — Herr 13 (unassisted). Min. — Rasmussen 11 (LaFleur, Kraft), 19:53.
Overtime: Mich. — Morrison 7 (Herr, Berenszwieg), 0:51.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 2 2 1 — 5
Michigan State 0 2 1 — 3

First Period: Min. — N. Miller 4 (Woog, LaFleur), 19:00. Min. — Kraft 6 (Berg), 19:16.
Second Period: MSU — Tuzzolino 3 (York, Adams), 14:23. Min. — LaFleur 4 (Crowley), 14:47. MSU — Tuzzolino 4 (York, Berens) PPG, 17:27. Min. — LaFleur 5 (unassisted), 18:04.
Third Period: MSU — York (O’Keefe), 8:28. Min. — Smith 4 (N. Miller, Woog), 15:23.