DeBus makes the stops, but Minnesota falls flat

Aaron Kirscht

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Steve DeBus didn’t deserve his fate this weekend.
The Gophers men’s hockey team lost a pair of games at North Dakota, an outcome that’s become something of a tradition over the past four seasons. But without DeBus in goal, Minnesota would not have gone into the final period of both games with a chance to win.
At times, it seemed as though DeBus was more than the last line of defense — he was the defense.
“That’s what you want from your goaltender,” Gophers coach Doug Woog said, “to give you a chance to win. But he shouldn’t have to make that many saves to do that. We shot ourselves in the foot and we put a Band-aid on it.”
Two weeks ago, Woog said DeBus would be his goalie down the stretch — a decision based on seniority as much as success. Since then, the senior has played his best hockey of the season.
Last weekend, DeBus was able to hold Wisconsin to one goal on 55 shots and earned his first shutout of the season. Despite allowing a goal 49 seconds in to Saturday’s game, DeBus recovered to make a number of spectacular saves and stopped 39 of 42 shots.
His strong play continued into the finale, when DeBus took a shutout into the third period for the third time in his last four games before succumbing to the Sioux’s frenzied five-goal final frame.
Nevertheless, DeBus and the rest of the Gophers’ seniors — Casey Hankinson, Ryan Kraft, Brett Abrahamson and Jason Godbout — are left to ponder a streak they won’t be able to break. No current player was on Minnesota’s roster Feb. 12, 1994 — the last time the Gophers left Grand Forks with a win.
Sunday’s game was the one that was supposed to buck tradition.
“We had them for two periods,” DeBus said. “It’s frustrating. It would have been great to get out of here with a win, even if it was 3-2 or something.”
The featured goaltender in the series was expected to North Dakota freshman Karl Goehring, the Apple Valley native who was facing the Gophers for the first time in his career. The two wins pushed Goehring’s record to 17-1-1, but DeBus, the grizzled veteran, probably taught the kid a few new tricks.
Midway through the second period on Sunday, for example, DeBus went behind the net to clear the puck, but a Sioux forward intercepted his pass along the boards and put a shot on net. DeBus, sprawling across the crease from behind the net, somehow managed to kick the shot away.
And the goals that slipped past DeBus were mainly the product of an overpowering forecheck fueled by exhaustive team speed. Woog disagreed with a reporter who said DeBus had only five good periods in the series, saying his team’s defense gave UND’s offense too many unstoppable chances.
“That just shows why they’re national champions,” DeBus. “I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times. I know. This is why you play a 60 minute game.”
After the first goal, DeBus angrily picked the puck out of the net and threw it up ice. Moments later, a live gopher thrown from the stands crossed his path.
Even though at that point DeBus still thought the game was Minnesota’s to win, the atmosphere told another story. The shutout bid was over, and that gopher might as well have been dead.
“The way we were going, I wasn’t worried,” DeBus said. “The puck was in there, and I thought we would get one.
“But you could definitely feel momentum building, and by the second or third it really catches up to you. It’s like, ‘Let’s get out of here right now. Stop the game right now.'”
That proved to be one stop DeBus couldn’t make.