Gophers’ wins lead to war of words with UMD

by Aaron Kirscht

If only we could get inside the mind of Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey coach Mike Sertich and wander around for awhile.
Perhaps then we could see what he meant when he derided the Gophers’ “arrogance” in his post-game comments on Friday — and why he denied making such a statement less than 24 hours later on a local cable outlet.
And perhaps then we could see if Sertich really meant it when he said “hockey means nothing” and recounted a recent visit with a young boy who lost his family in an accident.
After Minnesota won the first game of an eventual sweep by a score of 7-1, the look on Sertich’s face and the tone of his voice said hockey meant somewhat more than nothing. When the Gophers held off late-charging Minnesota-Duluth in the finale to win 6-5, Sertich seemed to have a hard time putting his disgust into words.
No matter. Minnesota’s sweep spoke volumes, earning the Gophers four points and a tie for seventh place — three points shy of the Bulldogs and fifth place.
But did they do so with a chip on their shoulders?
“Hockey’s a game of battles,” Sertich said Friday, “and they won them all. Then they topped it off with their arrogance.”
A reporter asked Sertich to elaborate. He wouldn’t, replying, “You figure it out.” The reporter asked the coach if he felt the Gophers were running up the score. Sertich opted out again: “I just made a comment. You figure it out.”
Truth be told, several Gophers players were spotted giving Bulldogs’ goaltender Brant Nicklin a hockey-stop facewash. And the Gophers’ Dave Spehar, a Duluth native, duplicated Nicklin’s player-introductions “dance” after scoring his second goal on Friday.
But Spehar turned the tables on Sertich and the Bulldogs, hinting that it was they, not the Gophers, who were arrogant.
“I don’t think it’s right to come into someone else’s barn and pull a dance like that,” Spehar said of Nicklin’s hopscotch-like skate to the blueline. “It’s just unbelievable.
“When you’re in your own place, whatever. Do what you’ve got to do. But show a little respect when you’re on the road — especially if you have trouble backing it up.”
Nicklin, last season’s rookie of the year in the WCHA, had been 8-2-1 in the Bulldogs’ last 11 games with a goals-against average under two.
The Gophers exceeded that total midway through the first period, and forced Nicklin — who had played every minute in goal for Minnesota-Duluth last season — out of the game midway through the third.
As for Sertich’s comments, Gophers coach Doug Woog said it’s hard for a team at the bottom of the league to be arrogant.
“If that’s what he thinks, that’s fine,” Woog said. “I only played Spehar and (Reggie) Berg at the end because they had a chance for hat tricks. We didn’t put (Wyatt) Smith in. We didn’t put our guns in on the power play.
“I didn’t think we were arrogant. I didn’t see any of that.”
How much of the mudslinging had to do with actual, rather than imagined, events is unclear. But any aftermath might not have to wait until next season. With the top four spots in the WCHA all but locked up, the Gophers and Bulldogs are likely to battle down the stretch for who will host the other in first round of the playoffs.
And with three wins out of four, Minnesota has the clear advantage.
“It was a playoff game in terms of the standings,” Woog said. “Because of the way it’s going to line up at the end, somebody’s going to have to end up in that fifth spot. So this is big.”