Minnesota skates to a pair of ties with St. Cloud State

Mark Remme

It’s become expected to see neck-and-neck play when Minnesota’s men’s hockey team faces St. Cloud State.

This weekend’s home-and-home showdown was no exception.

The second-ranked Gophers and 16th-ranked Huskies fought to a 5-5 tie Friday night and then skated to a 3-3 draw Saturday.

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Over the course of the weekend, no lead was safe. In fact, a two-goal lead proved to be costly throughout the series.

In the first game, Minnesota (8-1-2 overall, 4-0-2 WCHA) struggled through its worst defensive performance of the season, letting leads of 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3 slip away.

Coach Don Lucia expressed displeasure in his team’s performance.

“We struggled as a team (Friday),” Lucia said. “I was hoping that we could win – get through it – but we couldn’t do that tonight.”

Freshman forward Jay Barriball said the team never got a good flow going and that led to losing an always crucial conference win.

“In this league, it’s so tight you can’t drop a two-goal lead in the third period,” Barriball said.

Senior netminder Kellen Briggs allowed the most goals in a game since last season’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five matchup with the Huskies – a game in which he also let five goals in before being pulled in the second period.

In the other crease, the storyline surrounding St. Cloud State senior goalie Bobby Goepfert through two periods was his inability to control pucks he initially saved.

Goepfert found difficulty corralling pucks and it led to three goals off rebounds and one goal that slipped between his legs and trickled into the net.

“We’re working on that a lot in practice – just going to the net – because that’s where all the goals are,” Barriball said. “That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

But Goepfert buckled down later in the contest, including two game-saving stops in overtime that solidified the tie.

Minnesota’s power play, which scored on 25.9 percent of its opportunities coming into the series, became stagnant Friday as the Gophers found the net on just one of their five chances with a man-advantage.

St. Cloud State, on the other hand, took advantage of six power-play opportunities Minnesota allowed.

The Huskies (2-3-3, 2-3-3) caught fire with the man-advantage, converting on 3-of-6 chances – considerably higher than their 19.5 percent power-play conversion rate coming into the series.

Saturday’s game showcased a much crisper performance by both teams and early on it looked as though a goaltending duel would ensue.

Sophomore goalie Jeff Frazee was tested right from the start as the Gophers were on the penalty kill twice in the first period.But it was Minnesota that capitalized with the man-advantage late in the first.

Senior forward Tyler Hirsch scored on the Gophers’ first power play of the evening with one minute remaining in the period as he took a loose puck off the face off and slid the puck underneath Goepfert’s pads.

The second period was all St. Cloud State, as the Huskies scored three goals on seven shots.

The St. Cloud State offensive onslaught gave the Huskies a two-goal advantage, something Minnesota had three times in Friday’s game.

And, like the Gophers the night before, St. Cloud State couldn’t hold on to its lead.

Minnesota rallied in the third period as Barriball launched a shot that rattled off the crossbar and into the net to cut the lead in half and senior defenseman Mike Vannelli found the goal with 8:30 remaining to tie the score.

“They did it to us last night in the third period, so we thought, ‘Why can’t we do it to them?’ ” Vannelli said. “So that was something we decided we were going to take pride in.”

The Gophers escaped with two points on the weekend and kept its unbeaten streak intact. Minnesota is 8-0-2 in its last 10 games leading into next week’s match-up with defending national champion Wisconsin.

Lucia said all things considered, he’s happy with where his team sits.

“All in all (with) two ties on the weekend, we’re sitting 4-0-2 in the league,” Lucia said. “I’ll take where we’re at right now any day.”