U hockey splits series at Wisconsin

by Michael Rand

MADISON, Wisc. — Following a week of midterm exams, the Gophers hockey team Friday night offered students everywhere a definitive manual on how not to take a test.
After 55 minutes of uninspired play that produced a 2-1 deficit to rival Wisconsin, the Gophers, much like a student trying to cram five weeks of studying into one night, poured all of their energy into the last five minutes of the game.
The result: Minnesota produced a few good scoring chances but never put the puck in the net. When Wisconsin’s Darren Haley added an empty-net goal with 35 seconds left, the Gophers could only wonder what might have happened if they had started sooner.
Minnesota found the answer on Saturday, after failing the test but learning a lesson Friday.
Playing perhaps their most determined and complete game of the season, the Gophers defeated the Badgers 6-1 in front of 8,100 fans at Dane County Coliseum. Saturday’s outcome evened both teams’ records at 3-3. The Gophers and Badgers have each split their first three series’ of the season.
“If you look down the roster, there wasn’t a guy that had a lackluster night,” Gophers coach Doug Woog said after Saturday’s win. “Everyone is going to feel a lot better about themselves.”
Minnesota jumped out to an early lead after Ryan Kraft — a player whom Woog considered benching because of a checking-from-behind penalty he took on Friday — beat Wisconsin goalie Kirk Daubenspeck with a close-range wrist shot 6:25 into the game.
Four minutes later, the Gophers increased their lead to 2-0 on a one-timed slap shot by Wyatt Smith on the power play. Wisconsin’s Rick Enrico drew his team back within a goal with 1:27 left in the period by deking Gophers defenseman Mike Crowley and sending a wrist shot past the stick side of goalie Steve DeBus.
The 2-1 score marked the first time this season the Gophers lead at the first period.
Wisconsin had several chances to tie the game during a power play early in the second period, but DeBus came up with a couple of dazzling glove saves to keep the lead intact.
The Gophers gained momentum from the penalty kill. After controlling play for most of the middle portion of the period, Minnesota added another goal on Erik Rasmussen’s redirection of a pass from linemate Reggie Berg.
Minnesota broke the game open in the third period on goals by Kraft, Bill Kohn and Casey Hankinson.
Aside from increased intensity and another solid effort from DeBus, the Gophers were also aided by a subtle line switch made by Woog. The coach kept Friday’s first line of Rasmussen, Berg and Kraft, but he switched their position on the ice.
Woog moved Rasmussen from left wing to center, Berg from center to right wing and Kraft from right wing to left wing. The line accounted for half of Minnesota’s goals.
“The big guy made a difference in the middle,” Woog said in reference to Rasmussen.
The line juggling made a big difference, especially in contrast to the team’s play on Friday.
Minnesota struggled to move the puck all night and had very few scoring chances before the game’s final five minutes.
“We didn’t complete more than one pass all night, and I think that was in warm-ups,” Woog said.
Friday night’s locker room scene was similar to that of a week ago after the Gophers had dropped the series opener against Minnesota-Duluth. In both cases, the Gophers had no explanation for coming out flat.
“We’re not playing well as a whole,” Rasmussen said. “We’re not playing well until we’re forced to.”
A couple of lockers down from Rasmussen, Smith dressed quietly. His bafflement became evident as the tone and pace of his speech continued to rise throughout a discussion of the game.
“Last year we won 19 games in a row, but this year we’ve been up and down. We can’t dwell on (Friday night’s game), but we can’t forget it either,” he said.
On Saturday, Smith scored his first goal of the season. But even after his impressive performance, his thoughts on Friday’s game are important.

Notes: Gophers defenseman Brian LaFleur and Badgers defenseman Luke Gruden received game disqualifications for their fight during the second period of Saturday’s game. Both players will miss their respective team’s Friday game this weekend, meaning LaFleur will not play in Minnesota’s series opener against 6-0 North Dakota.

Gophers 1 0 0 — 1
Wisconsin 1 0 2 — 3

First period: Minn — Woog 1 (unassisted), 3:05. Wisc — Anderson 2 (Bradley, Englehart) PPG, 12:30.
Second period: No scoring.
Third period: Wisc — Krug 1 (Siren), 7:06. Wisc — Haley 2 (unassisted) ENG, 19:25.

Gophers 2 1 3 — 6
Wisconsin 1 0 0 — 1

First period: Minn — Kraft 3 (unassisted), 6:25. Minn — Smith 1 (LaFleur, J. Godbout) PPG, 10:09. Wisc — Enrico 2 (Gruden, Daubenspeck), 18:33.
Second period: Minn — Rasmussen 4 (Berg), 12:51.
Third period: Minn — Kraft 4 (unassisted), 3:14. Minn — Hankinson 2 (Crowley), 10:05. Minn — Kohn 1 (N. Miller, Hendrickson), 10:26.