Minnesota collars difficult sweep

by Ben Goessling

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team got the result it was looking for over the weekend, but the way the Gophers did it probably couldn’t have been any tougher.

Met at every turn by a feisty St. Cloud State team, the Gophers needed a lucky bounce in overtime Friday and a few timely power plays Saturday to sweep the Huskies 2-1 and 4-2.

The Gophers (13-4-0, 9-3-0 WCHA) knew better than to expect an easy time with the rebuilding Huskies. But even they seemed a bit surprised Saturday with how much work it took to bank four points in the conference standings.

“They battled every period this weekend. Their goaltender played great. I can’t give them enough credit,” said forward Danny Irmen, who netted a goal and an assist Saturday. “We knew we had to battle back, and fortunately, that happened.”

The Gophers fell behind 1-0 before 10,067 at Mariucci Arena on Saturday after the Huskies (8-9-1, 4-8-0) got a fluke goal off goaltender Kellen Briggs.

Briggs made an eye-popping stick save with approximately five minutes left in the second period, diving to his right and extending his stick to deny St. Cloud State on a 2-on-1. But the Huskies’ Andrew Gordon grabbed the puck and flipped a shot that bounced off defenseman Chris Harrington’s helmet before skipping past Briggs.

Minnesota scored on a power-play goal with 2:02 left in the second, tying the game when Irmen tapped home a Tyler Hirsch pass in the slot.

And when St. Cloud State showed its inexperience for the first time all weekend, Minnesota took advantage with just more than two minutes gone in the third period.

The Huskies took a penalty for having too many men on the ice at 33 seconds, and Ryan Potulny bagged his nation-leading 17th goal of the year on a rebound.

Andy Sertich provided the backbreaker seven minutes later, knocking home a rebound in front of the net, again on the power play.

The three goals came after an 0-for-6 showing on the power play Friday against the best penalty kill in the WCHA. Minnesota coach Don Lucia gave a midgame speech Saturday, imploring the Gophers to get to the net.

“The first power play we had (Saturday), we did a great job killing it off by passing it around the perimeter,” Lucia said. “When you have skill guys, they like to play that way. But you’ve still got to take a hack and whack. (Assistant coach) Bob Motzko says we’ve got to get into Bloody Nose Alley. It takes a beating to score goals.”

On Friday, the Gophers got by more on luck than anything else.

After losing a 1-0 lead before 6,685 at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn., the Gophers were hit with several foolish (and nearly very costly) penalties late in the third period and breathed a sigh of relief to even get to overtime.

Minnesota even got a gift heading into the extra frame, as Sertich was hauled down on an odd-man rush with 45 seconds left in the third period, giving Minnesota a rare late-game power play that extended into overtime.

But Minnesota squandered that chance, with forward Kris Chucko unable to get a handle on the puck right in front of goalie Tim Boron, and Lucia admitted he would have been happy with a tie when the power play expired.

“I was thinking tie, to be honest,” he said. “There wasn’t real good continuity at either end. But we made the play.”

With less than three minutes left in overtime, defenseman Nate Hagemo brought the puck into St. Cloud State’s zone when he saw forward Jake Fleming step off the bench for a line change. Hagemo hit Fleming with a perfect pass in front of Boron, but even that wasn’t enough.

After getting stuffed on his first attempt, though, Fleming got the puck right back and tucked it past Boron to the upper half of the net.

The goal wasn’t as easy as it should have been, but neither was anything else.

“That’s why you work all week,” Fleming said. “To put yourself in a position to get the breaks.”