Minnesota hockey lives and dies by power play

Mark Heller

At the end of regulation play during Friday night’s Minnesota men’s hockey game, players on both teams gathered around their respective benches.
From an overhead view, it looked like two different worlds. No. 1 Boston College, which had come back from a 4-0 deficit halfway through the second period to tie the game at five in the last minute of regulation, had coaches clapping hands and players patting each other. The Gophers just stood around, heads hung low.
The Eagles had all the momentum. Then two minutes into overtime, Minnesota senior captain Nate Miller made a ferocious hit, took the puck and fired a slapshot that barely slid under Eagles goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Miller rescued the Gophers from what could have been a disastrous ending.
“We gave up those two power-play goals early,” Boston College coach Jerry York said. “Those two really put us down, and being down 4-0 is a hard way to play.”
But what got Minnesota most of that 4-0 lead was the power play. And the lack thereof gave the Gophers a 4-1 loss on Saturday.
“Our power play was huge,” Miller said after Friday’s game. “We worked hard on it all week. If we don’t score those three power-play goals, we don’t win.”
You couldn’t tell the Gophers were on the power play the first time they had a man-advantage — they failed to get a shot off.
But they came back with goals the next two power plays. Dylan Mills and Jeff Taffe each scored off passes from Erik Westrum and Dave Spehar. Nick Anthony’s even-strength goal made it 3-0 by the end of the first period.
Spehar assisted on Aaron Miskovich’s power-play goal to open the second period. Minnesota finished 3-of-6 on the power play with six shots on goal with a man-advantage.
“We did a much better job,” Lucia said. “We’ve had to figure out who to put on those lines. We don’t have a lot of defensemen who can skate that well up and down the ice. We put Westrum and (Jordan) Leopold back at the point to get the puck up ice better. They did just that and made some real nice plays.”
Saturday’s power play flatlined in Minnesota’s 4-1 loss. Spehar scored the Gophers’ lone goal on the power play in the second period. For the game, however, Minnesota was 1-for-8, with four shots in those eight chances.
Entering last weekend, the Gophers were 3-27 (.111) on the power play. Friday’s game helped move them up to 7-41 (.170). Last season under Doug Woog, Minnesota was just 28-137 (.204).
Part of Lucia’s success in getting the hockey program back to where it was will depend on consistent productivity on the power play, and this weekend’s results at least showed that Lucia’s team is capable of getting a few goals.
Consistently harnessing that capability is the next step.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Lucia said after Friday’s game. “We (won) once and we’ll find out a little more (Saturday). A loss would have been really devastating.”

Mark Heller welcomes comments at [email protected]