Gophers come up empty in Grand Forks series

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team was swept by North Dakota and is now 1-5 in the WCHA.

Lou Raguse

When Minnesota’s men’s hockey team lined up at center ice to shake hands after Saturday’s game, the players kicked aside several brooms some of the 11,986 fans threw onto the rink.

The brooms represent the weekend sweep No. 2 North Dakota (6-1, 2-0 WCHA) completed against the 10th-ranked Gophers by a 5-3 score at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The game was not as ugly as Minnesota’s 7-3 loss to the Sioux the night before. Nevertheless, after falling to 1-5 in the WCHA and 2-7 overall, the Gophers had plenty of reasons to be upset.

“To go home with two losses on a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride, it’s going to be a long one,” forward Gino Guyer said.

Coach Don Lucia is still searching for reasons his team is not performing to its potential. After what seemed a promising improvement in the Denver series Oct. 31-Nov. 1, Lucia was disgusted with the effort Friday.

“For whatever reason, I don’t think we’ve had everyone in our lineup play as hard as they can,” Lucia said. “We had some guys that just didn’t want to compete.”

On Saturday, Minnesota jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period on power-play goals by Grant Potulny and Troy Riddle. However, the Gophers were unable to sustain the advantage.

North Dakota ripped off five unanswered goals, starting with a deflected clearing pass from goaltender Justin Johnson that Sioux defenseman Matt Greene converted into a goal.

Although happier with Saturday’s effort, Lucia reiterated the continuing theme of not receiving his top players’ needed performance. Minnesota forwards Thomas Vanek, Matt Koalska and Barry Tallackson did not tally a point in the series.

But Guyer said Saturday that during last season’s championship run, Minnesota featured big games from different players each night.

“It was coming from all over the place – the first line one night, the fourth line the next night,” Guyer said. “That’s what we need to get back to this year.”

Minnesota’s stale play Friday was characterized in the first period when the Gophers did not even get a shot off in their first three power plays. The Gophers seemed to come back to form in the second period, fighting back with Riddle and Tyler Hirsch scoring goals 26 seconds apart.

But referees waived off what appeared to be the 4-4 tying goal when Greene caught Vanek’s shot as they crashed into the net.

Several Minnesota breakdowns ensued after a North Dakota timeout, allowing the Sioux to add three more goals in the third period.

“I think the turnaround was when I turned the puck over inside our own blue line at the beginning of the third period and they scored,” Hirsch said. “It was a bonehead play on my end.”

North Dakota’s top line of Zach Parise, Brandon Bochenski and Brady Murray lived up to its billing, combining for five goals and four assists during Friday’s game.

Bochenski, a junior from Blaine, Minn., had no previous goals against Minnesota and finished with two goals and three assists in the game for a career-high five points.

The Gophers held down that line a little better Saturday but allowed three goals out of Greene and Matt Jones.

“When you get early lead and keep tacking on goals, it’s one thing,” Sioux assistant coach Brad Berry said. “But when you fight back from a 2-0 deficit to win, it shows a lot of character.”

Minnesota used both Johnson and Kellen Briggs in each game. However, Lucia did not pin the blame on either goalie.

“I only faulted Kellen on one goal (Friday) night,” Lucia said. “But obviously we still need a couple more key saves from them each game.”