Gophers sweep to advance in WCHA

Josh Linehan

COLORADO SPRINGS — In the end, there was something to be said for karma. Don’t be surprised if the Minnesota men’s hockey team are big believers after a weekend sweep of Colorado College.
Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win extended the Gophers’ season, allowing them to skate in Minnesota again, Thursday at the Final Five.
Even after Minnesota was put in the hole by a phantom goal to break a scoreless tie with just 27 seconds remaining in the second period Saturday, the Gophers never thought they would lose.
And after Erik Westrum banged home his own rebound with eight seconds left in regulation, it set the scene for poetic justice in the form of junior forward Stuart Senden.
Senden, a gritty third-line forward, has done all the little things correctly this season. He’s killed penalties, played solid defense and always come up with a hard shift when the Gophers needed one. And though he has only seven goals on the season, almost all of those have been big ones — four of Senden’s tallies have come in the third period or overtime.
When he tapped a Ben Tarp rebound past Colorado College goaltender Jeff Sanger at 7:34 of the extra session, Senden won the series for Minnesota and sent Colorado College home before the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.
“I was thinking before overtime, ‘What if I get this one?’ And sure as heck, I did,” Senden said moments after winning the series. “I just went to the net and got a scrum goal. That’s playoff hockey.”
The typically offensive-minded Gophers proved they could master playoff hockey, where open ice is hard to come by and clean goals are few and far between. Postseason hockey, a la Minnesota coach Don Lucia, is a poker game.
The first rule: Never tip your hand — all week, Lucia claimed Pete Samargia would start in goal. But when the former Colorado College coach laid down his cards, Adam Hauser was his ace in the hole. Hauser stopped 54 of 48 Tigers shots on the weekend.
The Gophers played the entire weekend close to the vest. They concentrated on defense and waited patiently for Colorado College to give openings, and then capitalized on those opportunities.
Lucia finally went all-in Saturday night. Up one game to none in the series, he opted to start Hauser for the second night of the series, knowing full well the sophomore netminder might not be able to play three consecutive games, given his fatigue and the 6,000-foot altitude of Colorado Springs.
The gamble paid off in spades. With Minnesota down 2-1 and less than two minutes left in regulation Saturday, Hauser stoned the Tigers’ two leading scorers, Noah Clarke and Toby Peterson on a 2-on-0 rush, keeping the Gophers alive and allowing Westrum to tie the game moments later.
“That stop on the 2-on-0 was, without question, the play of the night,” Lucia said. “We’re a different team with Adam in the net, so we rolled the dice and played him again. And lucky for us, it came up sevens. We had to go for the win tonight.”
Hauser had to stop not only the Tigers, but referee Don Adams, who was the game’s only true goal-scorer for over two periods.
With moments to play in the second period, Colorado College’s Trent Clark took a shot from the top of the circle, which beat Hauser but not the goalpost. The ricochet sound echoed through World Arena and both teams played on, even as the goal judge flipped his light on, then off.
Adams, who was out of position to make the call, blew his whistle and conferred with the goal judge. Though TV replays showed the puck touched iron and didn’t cross the line, the play was ruled a goal, much to the consternation of the Gophers.
“I don’t think there’s any question in the mind of anyone in this building that was not a goal,” Lucia said afterwords. “But it’s my job as a coach to diffuse that. So I told them, we weren’t going to win without scoring anyway, so it was a meaningless goal.”
Minnesota put themselves in the driver’s seat with a 4-2 win in the opening game Friday night. The Gophers played one of their best games of the year, concentrating on defense and limiting the Tigers’ chances.
Hauser started his first game since being diagnosed with mononucleosis, stopping 26 of 28 shots for the win. Lucia said he was sure Hauser would start most of the week.
“After I found out he was all right to play, it was a no-brainer,” Lucia said Friday. “He’s been the one who got it done for us all year, and we’re going to play Adam if he’s ready to go.”
The Tigers made a game of it Friday in the third, scoring twice, but Nate Miller blasted a 35-foot slap shot for the game-winner.
In the end, Minnesota did what Colorado College could not on both nights. Friday the Gophers held their lead and escaped with the win. Saturday they picked the perfect time for their first third-period comeback of the season.
“They outshot us early, but we never panicked,” Miller said. “The coaches stressed that all week. Adam gave us a huge lift early, and we built off that.”
Good follows good and bad follows bad. In Colorado Springs, Minnesota refused to be beaten and overcame obstacles to win on the road.
“It’s all adrenaline out there, but you have to take the nervousness and make it anxiousness,” Hauser said. “It’s the same energy but two different emotions, and there’s a world of difference.”

Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]