If the Gophers men’s hockey team looked a little uncomfortable doing the stick salute at center ice after their sweep of Michigan Tech, forgive them. It’s been awhile.
Minnesota (9-13-6, 7-8-3 WCHA) celebrated its first home sweep since last February by defeating the Huskies (7-18-1, 7-13-0 WCHA), 4-2 and 4-2.
“I almost forgot what it was like,” senior Reggie Berg said. “It was a long time coming. We’ve been playing hard all year, and we got a couple of breaks and bounces. This one was long overdue.”
A long time coming might have been an understatement. Minnesota’s last victory was Nov. 29 against Michigan State.
The Gophers have been improving, but this is the first time in 10 games they were able to come away with two points for a win.
“It’s hard to play and not win,” coach Doug Woog said. “Ties give you a point, but no satisfaction.”
If that’s the truth, then the Gophers must be feeling pretty good about themselves after a commanding sweep of Michigan Tech.
The Gophers performance over the weekend was almost an exact opposite of what has occurred in previous games.
Instead of committing stupid penalties, they played an aggressive but smart defensive game against the Huskies. They also slammed one-timers on target, when just a couple of weeks before those shots might have gone over the glass.
“I don’t know if we played great, but we worked hard,” Woog said. “I really like it when we rip the puck. Some guys were getting some mustard on their shots.”
One of the lines that once again led the way was the third line of Erik Wendell, John Pohl and Stuart Senden.
They have been arguably the most consistent and hardest-working line on the team. They also all registered a point in Saturday’s 4-2 win.
“I think it’s because of the role we have that our line is gelling,” the freshman Pohl said. “I don’t want to say that we’re kamikazes, but it’s not like we have to make five passes around the net to score. Our job is to get in, battle hard, and if we can get a point or two to help the team, great.”
The younger players on the team have been picking up the slack during the winless streak. But up until this weekend, it was the only effort they were contributing; a point here and there was missing.
But the third line — along with the emergence of Matt Leimbek, who scored five points on the fourth line — picked up the majority of the scoring responsibilities this weekend, which is just fine with the coach.
“I think that this proves to the older guys that the younger guys are contributing,” Woog said. “It shows to the older guys that the younger guys are capable of helping us win.”
With Minnesota’s next opponent, the team that handed the Gophers their worst two losses of the year — Colorado College — the third- and fourth-liners will need to continue their high-energy play.
And if Minnesota is going to keep this roll going they will need everyone to contribute, young and old.
“We’ve been working hard all year; everyone’s been putting in the effort,” Berg said. “This could be the turning point of the season.”
Michigan Tech 1 1 0 — 2
Gophers 1 1 2 — 4
FIRST PERIOD: MTU — Snesrud 1 (unassisted), 7:06. Minn — Meyer 3 (Leimbek 7, Angell 6), 9:01.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Pohl 4 (Senden 4, Wendell 4), 12:37. MTU — Doetzel 2 (Way 4), 14:06.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Leimbek 3 (Berg 19, Pagel 6), PPG, 1:29. Minn — Berg 10 (Pagel 7, N. Miller 6), 3:52.
FridayMichigan Tech 2 0 0 — 2
Gophers 2 2 0 — 4
FIRST PERIOD: MTU — Ulwelling 7 (Snesrud 6, Krueger 1), PPG, 10:49. MTU — Cabana 11 (Ulwelling 12, Weinberger 2), 11:18. Minn — Leimbek 2 (Berg 18, Pagel 5), PPG, 14:17. Minn — Smith 16 (Miskovich 7, Spehar 14), 17:15.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Anderson 5 (Leimbek 5), 13:04. Minn — Pagel 2 (Leimbek 6), 16:45.
THIRD PERIOD: no scoring