Gophers split with Sioux in penalty-ridden weekend

Brian Deutsch

>GRAND FORKS, N.D. – “If we had popped in a goal in the first or second period, it might have been a different story,” sophomore forward Ryan Flynn said Friday night after a 4-2 loss to North Dakota.

The next night, it was a different story with a different ending as the Gophers scored four goals in the first two periods and held off a third period push from the Sioux to win 4-3.

On Friday, both teams were held scoreless through the first two periods before six goals in the third spiced things up.

Twice in the period, the Sioux jumped out to a one-goal lead, but the Gophers (9-8-1 overall, 5-7-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) were able to come back and even the score with goals by junior Blake Wheeler and sophomore forward Ryan Flynn.

But then North Dakota (8-6-1, 6-6-0 WCHA) scored a pair of goals in the game’s 17th minute – a feat that Minnesota was not able to match – and the Sioux held on for the win.

“We executed our game plan to a ‘T’ in the third period. We played hard, scored two goals. That’s a huge positive for our team,” Wheeler said. “To come up short, that really hurts.”

But a sweep would have hurt more and the next night, Minnesota was dangerously close to giving up one of those if not for coming into the third period with a 4-1 lead.

Senior forward Ben Gordon scored the eventual game-winner when he picked up a loose rebound close to the Sioux net and lifted it over a pile with under two seconds remaining in the second period.

“Somehow it just squirted through, and I managed to get my stick on it,” Gordon said.

One would think that such a late goal would have sent the Sioux into the locker room deflated and ready to call it a night, but just like the previous night, North Dakota dominated the third period – scoring two goals to cut the lead to 4-3.

But that was as close as the Sioux would come as the Gophers held off an extra-attacker barrage for the win.

“I thought both teams played so hard (Friday), we didn’t have the same jump in our step (Saturday),” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “I thought that was good for us because we didn’t want an up-and-down game. We just wanted to play patient.”

The splits streak

Saturday’s loss meant another split for North Dakota -the team has split all six of its WCHA series so far this season, which doesn’t bode well for the conference standing.

And despite the win Friday and the fact that North Dakota had the game within reach Saturday, coach Dave Hakstol said he was anything but pleased with his squad.

“I’m disappointed in our overall performance. I don’t want to be over-critical and anything of that nature but to sweep a series in this league you have to have desperation through 60 minutes,” Hakstol said. “We couldn’t put that together (Saturday) for 60 minutes, that’s what’s disappointing.”

Hakstol said he didn’t want to point fingers at individuals, but a surprising performance (or lack thereof) was that of Sioux senior goaltender Jean Philippe-Lamoureux.

Friday night, Hakstol credited his goalie as “the key” to the Sioux fighting through and picking up the win.

Saturday was a different story, however, as Lamoureux didn’t look like the same goaltender that led the WCHA in goals against average (1.52).

Lamoureux ended the weekend with a 1-1 record – stopping 66 shots and allowing six goals.

The Gophers netminding duo was no more impressive and quite frankly was rather untested all weekend.

Junior Jeff Frazee earned the loss Friday while stopping 26 of 30 shots on goal.

Saturday night, the win went to freshman Alex Kangas who looked solid until the third period.

Kangas only faced 25 shots, yet gave up three goals.

While Hakstol wasn’t happy with the split, Kangas knows things could have gone much worse for the Gophers.

“(Getting the split) was huge, especially going into Christmas break,” the freshman said. “We wanted to go out on a good feeling and get things going for the second half of the year.”