U teams lose games, cool on road

by Aaron Kirscht

HOUGHTON, Mich. — For a few short days in late January, the Gophers men’s hockey team was back.
The we’re-better-than-our-record refrain was beginning to sound reasonable. Goals were coming in bunches. The once-porous defense had solidified. Injuries were healing. The optimism in the Minnesota locker room was palpable.
Then, for the first time in two months, the Gophers went on the road. And there they were reintroduced to the reality that had been mercifully suppressed by a few timely wins over mediocre opponents.
Michigan Tech beat Minnesota soundly — and quite literally — in the weekend series, winning both ends by a score of 5-3. Gophers coach Doug Woog’s pallor and posture were evidence of a weekend, and a season, gone awry.
“You lose games, you lose points, you lose ground,” Woog said. “This would fit in our string as one of the worst.”
The losses extended the Gophers’ road losing streak to eight games, three short of the program’s all-time record, and gave Michigan Tech its first sweep over Minnesota (10-16 overall, 6-12 in the WCHA) in 20 years. The Huskies (13-12-2, 8-11-1) jumped into a tie for fifth place with Minnesota-Duluth.
In sweeping Minnesota-Duluth at home last weekend, the Gophers served notice that their season wasn’t over yet. A fifth-place finish in the WCHA standings and a home playoff series was suddenly within reach.
But Michigan Tech put those hopes out of reach early on Friday, scoring twice in a two-minute stretch of the first period. The Huskies went up 3-1 early in the second period before Minnesota notched a pair of power play goals to even the score and steal back the momentum going into the second intermission.
The Gophers couldn’t take advantage, however, as Michigan Tech needed slightly more than a minute of the third period to score the game winner.
On Saturday, Minnesota scored first, but the Huskies responded again with a pair of quick goals. In the third period, Michigan Tech did it again, scoring two goals in a 54-second span to take a 5-2 lead.
The Gophers tried to claw their way back in, but Michigan Tech’s aggressive defense negated Minnesota’s speedy forwards. And when the Gophers tried to retaliate in desperation, the officials made them pay.
Sophomore defenseman Ryan Trebil received a five-minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct midway through the second period, leaving the Gophers with only four defensemen. In all, Minnesota was called for 14 penalties for 47 minutes.
“If you’ve been swatted on the forearms for 120 minutes,” Woog said, “you’d probably have a little frustration inside of you.”
Aside from the incessant chippy play, a probable source of the Gophers’ aggression occurred at the team hotel earlier that day. While Woog was on the phone for a radio broadcast back in the Twin Cities, he overheard Michigan Tech’s Andre Savage, in “a happy tone,” discussing how he thought he had rebroken Gophers captain Casey Hankinson’s thumb the night before.
Woog stepped out to tell Savage that he “didn’t particularly appreciate” the comment. The coach also said he recounted the incident for his team prior to the Saturday afternoon game.
“Yeah, I told them,” Woog said. “(Savage) made a comment that our guys were chicken, that we were scared. You know, bragging to his buddies and laughing about it.”
Hankinson’s hand wasn’t rebroken, but he did reaggravate the injury in a scuffle with Savage on Friday.
Hankinson tried to get his revenge in another battle with Savage on Saturday, and Woog could be heard encouraging him: “Go ahead, Casey, go ahead.” But Hankinson was called for a pair of roughing penalties in the third period. The second, for a punch to the midsection of a Huskies defenseman, was provoked by an uncalled slash to Hankinson’s injured hand, which sent him to the bench for the rest of the game. His status is day-to-day.
Optimism has given way to desperation, and the Gophers’ schedule isn’t exactly conducive to a last-gasp surge to the finish. Minnesota closes with Wisconsin, North Dakota, Alaska-Anchorage, Colorado College and St. Cloud State. In their first 10 games against those teams, the Gophers went 1-9, salvaging a split at Wisconsin.
Woog said on Saturday he hadn’t even thought about the rest of the season, that he was just concerned about how the Gophers played against Michigan Tech. And he summed that up simply.
“It was a wasted trip,” Woog said, his voice barely above a whisper.

SCORING SUMMARIES

FRIDAY’S GAME
Gophers 1 2 0 — 3
MTU 2 1 2 — 5
FIRST PERIOD: MTU –Nelson (Savage), 9:11. MTU –Sutton (Savage, Nelson), PPG 10:48. Minn — Westrum (Kraft), 15:02.
SECOND PERIOD: MTU — Aitken (Meyers, Sutton), 3:15. Minn — Anderson (Berg, Pagel), PPG 14:46. Minn — Spehar (Hankinson, Kraft), PPG 18:46.
THIRD PERIOD: MTU — Nelson (Savage), 1:16. MTU — Mueller (Sutton), 10:36.

SATURDAY’S GAME
Gophers 1 1 1 — 3
MTU 2 1 2 — 5
FIRST PERIOD: Minn –Anderson (Pagel, Berg), PPG 5:27. MTU — Nelson (Snesrud, Savage), PPG 11:57. MTU — Way (Lardner, Kryzer), 13:19.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn –Miller (Pagel, Westrum), 2:38. MTU — Savage (unassisted), 13:46.
THIRD PERIOD: MTU –Meyers (Savage), 6:57. MTU –Perrett (Fure), 7:51. Minn –Anderson (Kraft, Mills), 9:10.