U hockey powers into WCHA forefront with sweep

Michael Rand

Listening to Gophers hockey coach Doug Woog’s controlled tirade after the Gophers’ 4-3 overtime loss to St. Cloud State on Dec. 15 at Mariucci Arena, it was pretty clear that he saw a difference between his two special teams units.
The team’s penalty killing unit had been special, indeed, ranking among the best in the nation all season.
Minnesota’s power play, on the other hand, was hovering around 20 percent efficiency, well below last year’s final mark of 26 percent. Woog’s message was simple: The power play was especially bad to the point that it was hurting the team.
In addition to going 0-5 on the power play in its split with St. Cloud State, Minnesota gave up a shorthanded goal that fueled the Huskies’ comeback victory — the team’s first-ever road win over the Gophers.
“The power play is causing us aggravation and losses right now,” Woog said after the game.
Oh, how things have changed.
Minnesota went 5 for 7 on the power play in sweeping Alaska-Anchorage on the road this weekend, including a 3-for-3 effort in Saturday’s win.
After their 4-1 and 6-2 wins over the Seawolves, the Gophers (14-6, 11-5 in the WCHA) are now just one point out of first place in the league behind North Dakota and St. Cloud State.
Since the St. Cloud State series, Minnesota’s power play has converted more than 50 percent (8-for-15) of its chances.
“We weren’t putting time into the power play like we should have been,” Gophers forward Reggie Berg said. “It helped when we started practicing more.”
After their display at Alaska, the Gophers appear ready to not only practice their special teams play, but perhaps also conduct a clinic.
Aside from their phenomenal 71 percent power play success, the Gophers did not allow a goal in 15 power play chances for the Seawolves.
Ryan Kraft had two of Minnesota’s power play goals on Saturday night and added an even-strength goal to notch his third career hat trick.
Several other Gophers also had big weekends. Mike Crowley raised his season point total to 19 with a goal and four assists, Dave Spehar had two goals and an assist, Reggie Berg had three assists, and Mike Anderson had two goals.
Minnesota, which earned its first road sweep since beating Denver on Jan. 5-6 last year, has won 11 of 14 games since starting 3-3 this season. The Gophers are also 7-0-1 in their last eight games against the Seawolves.
Included in that 11-3 run were wins over Boston College and Miami (Ohio) in last weekend’s Mariucci Classic. The Gophers defeated the Eagles 4-2 and then rallied from an early deficit to beat the Redskins 7-4 in the championship game.
The series with Alaska-Anchorage marks the halfway point in the WCHA season for the Gophers. Minnesota hosts Denver next weekend before playing five of its next six games on the road. The team finishes with six of eight games at home.
Goaltender Steve DeBus, who stopped 39 of 42 shots this weekend in raising his record to 11-5, said the team is gelling after a lukewarm start.
“We lost a couple of games that may come back to hurt us, but right now we’re pretty close to where we want to be,” DeBus said. “Everybody understands their roles, and we have good chemistry.”
Slap Shots
ù Senior defenseman Brian LaFleur separated his left shoulder in the first period of Minnesota’s win over Boston College and will be out for at least five weeks.
Junior Casey Hankinson skated just one shift after taking a hard hit midway through Saturday night’s game. Goaltender Erik Day continues to be out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
ù Gophers redshirt freshman Willy Marvin made his debut in goal during the Gophers’ exhibition game Dec. 30 against a team from Finland, stopping 34 shots in a 5-4 loss.
Marvin has been backing up DeBus since Day injured his shoulder Nov. 23.

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 3 1 0 — 4
Seawolves 0 0 1 — 1

First Period: Min — Anderson 5 (Lyons, Woog), 5:31. Min — Spehar 4 (Kohn, Crowley) PPG, 9:17. Kohn 3 (Kraft, Crowley) PPG, 13:27.
Second Period: Min — Crowley 3 (Hankinson, Berg), :18.
Third Period: UAA — Silverman 3 (Simon), 17:39.
A-5,901.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 0 4 2 — 6
Seawolves 1 0 1 — 2

First Period: UAA — McCann 3 (Vallieres, Edwards), 11:33.
Second Period: Min — Anderson 6 (Abrahamson, Hendrickson), 8:05. Min — Kraft 10 (N. Miller, Crowley) PPG, 9:42. Min — Spehar 5 (Crowley) PPG, 14:57. Min — Kraft 11 (Lyons), 18:51.
Third Period: Min — Kraft 12 (Berg, Spehar) PPG, 6:43. Min — Pagel 3 (Hendrickson, Berg), 13:03. UAA — Silverman 4 (Schell, Tuott), 13:46.
A-5,984.