Michigan schools showcase superior talents

David La

Coming into November, a month featuring eight games against five 2000 NCAA tournament teams, the Gophers men’s hockey team faced questions about their legitimacy.
Convincing sweeps of Wisconsin and St. Cloud State provided answers, but uninspired losses to Michigan State and Michigan last weekend put Minnesota (9-3-1) back on the stool and under the bright lamps.
The new line of questioning concerns the team’s moxie. From the team skate on Friday morning right on through Saturday’s post-game press conference, players and coaches alike expressed disappointment with their teams’ motivation.
“Every guy has to look within himself and find that jump,” assistant captain Johnny Pohl said Saturday. “We were ranked number two in the nation and we had two of the best teams coming in. If you’re not excited to play, you better get checked out.”
The Gophers checked-out of both games thanks to futile play in all facets. One of the nation’s top power-play units went 0-for-6 on the weekend, while the penalty kill allowed two short-handed goals.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines and the Spartans each blitzed Minnesota for a three-goal period.
The tone for a sluggish weekend was set Friday morning in the team skate.
“It was not a very good skate (Friday) morning,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “Guys were sluggish, and had the attitude of, `Geez, do we have to skate this morning?’ That’s not the type of attitude you want to bring to the rink.”
Still, Minnesota opened the scoring Friday, and took a 1-0 advantage over Michigan State into the third period.
The Spartans (10-1-2) found their offense, scoring two goals in the first 4:06 of the third. The Gophers Erik Westrum got whistled for high sticking, putting Minnesota a man short at an inopportune time.
But the Gophers Aaron Miskovich tied the game on a short-handed breakaway, restoring momentum.
With just over two minutes to play, assistant captain Dylan Mills drew a penalty for slashing. Miskovich turned Westrum’s penalty into a big goal, but Minnesota was out of remedies for foolishness.
On the ensuing Michigan State power play, wing Brian Maloney snuck the game-winning shot between goaltender Adam Hauser’s left leg pad and the pipe.
“You can’t take penalties like that in the last seven minutes of the game,” Lucia said. “If the guys don’t want to give themselves a chance to win then they’re going to get beat.”
In Saturday’s tilt with Michigan (10-3-2), Westrum put the Gophers up early in the first period on a slapshot which trickled past goalie Josh Blackburn.
The Wolverines were dominated early in the second period, fighting off tremendous pressure from Minnesota. For the period, the Gophers outshot Michigan 16-11, but produced no goals.
“I liked the fact that Josh Blackburn didn’t get rattled when he gave up that bad goal,” Wolverines coach Red Berenson said. “Because the first 10 or 12 minutes of the second period was all Minnesota, and he had to keep us in the game. And he did. If the Gophers score a second goal, we’re in a huge hole.”
Instead, Michigan buried its chances. Center Mike Cammalleri scored two goals and assisted on another, taxing Minnesota with its second three-goal period of the weekend.
“I though Cammalleri was outstanding,” Berenson said. “He got us back in the game.”
Getting back in the game is exactly what the Gophers could not do this weekend.
Minnesota played well in spurts, but ultimately succumbed to lackadaisical effort and inconsistent play.
“We didn’t win because we weren’t enthused,” Pohl said. “We didn’t play with any excitement and we didn’t pick each other up when we got down.
“You can yell and scream, coaches can skate us until we puke, but if you don’t come ready to play it doesn’t do any good.”