Inconsistency plagues men’s hockey

by Adam Fink

HOUGHTON, Mich. – With a little over four minutes remaining and the sparse crowd growing antsy Saturday night, it appeared Minnesota’s men’s hockey team was going to finish the weekend with a sweep at Michigan Tech.

But the Huskies were relentless to the puck and at 16:44 of the third period, John Scott scored to tie the game at three and rejuvenated the 2,701 fans at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

The final nine minutes – including overtime – of the 3-3 tie is a perfect example of Minnesota’s season thus far. With 18 underclassmen, the defending national champions have been dominant at times and have shown their youth at others.

In Friday night’s series opener, Minnesota’s young talent served notice in a come-from-behind 5-4 win. The Gophers got two goals each from freshmen Thomas Vanek and Gino Guyer.

“We are young and inconsistent at times,” coach Don Lucia said. “We did some good things. It’s just disappointing we gave the game away (Saturday).”

The third-ranked Gophers rallied from a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead midway through the third period Saturday. In the process, Minnesota showed its comeback ability.

Increasing their overall hustle and pressure on the puck, the Gophers forced the Huskies into seven penalties over the final two periods. The whistles led to power-play goals from Troy Riddle and Judd Stevens.

“We pride ourselves on not getting outworked,” Lucia said.

With momentum still on the maroon and gold’s side, the Gophers scored their final goal early in the period.

All Minnesota (2-1-2, 1-0-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) needed to do was play solid defense and it would have its second consecutive victory.

However, the youth movement isn’t just at the forward position. With freshmen P.J. Atherton and Chris Harrington, and sophomore Stevens not matched with their typical linemates, Minnesota eventually lost the lead, and almost the game on defensive breakdowns.

“We were mixing up the pairs,” junior defensemen Paul Martin said. “We had some breakdowns this weekend but I thought we did a good job overall.”

If not for goaltender Justin Johnson’s strong weekend, the Gophers might have been dealt a blow in the standings.

Johnson stopped 24 shots, including four tough Michigan Tech chances in overtime. Johnson played well on Saturday, Lucia said.

On Friday, starting goaltender Travis Weber only played the first 30 minutes after allowing three goals in seven shots. Weber was pulled for Johnson, who finished off the game strong.

Inconsistency wasn’t just a Saturday occurrence.

Michigan Tech (1-2-2, 0-1-1) skated to a comfortable 3-1 lead midway through the second period Friday night. Again, the Gophers were forced to come back.

An even strength, followed by a power-play goal early in the third period by Guyer gave Minnesota a 4-3 lead. The Gophers couldn’t hold the lead, as Michigan Tech came back to tie the game. But Vanek’s second goal of the night proved to be the game winner.

For the weekend, the Gophers were 5-for-17 on the power play. Lucia was displeased the team wasn’t able to convert on more of its opportunities. However, Michigan Tech was only 2-for-10.

With questions of consistency swirling, Minnesota now prepares for this weekend’s nonconference series with Alabama-Huntsville.

Tallackson injured

Sophomore Barry Tallackson injured his right shoulder on Friday night after taking a helmet to the shoulder during the second period.

Tallackson left the game and didn’t return. The injury has been diagnosed as a separated shoulder. Tallackson is scheduled for another examination Monday.

Wearing a sling, Tallackson watched Saturday’s game from the press box.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]