Rocky road: Gophers get swept

by Lou Raguse

DENVER ññ One play characterized Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s weekend series.

Down by two goals late in the third period Saturday, goaltender Justin Johnson sprinted toward the bench to give the Gophers a man advantage when Denver forward Connor James gained control of the puck.

Johnson wheeled around and flailed his stick in the air as James flipped the puck over him into the empty net.

Despite an improved effort over Friday’s 6-2 loss, the goal secured a 6-3 victory for the Pioneers as the Gophers fell victim to shaky goaltending and suffered their fourth series sweep of the season.

“Goaltending was an issue all weekend,” coach Don Lucia said. “And it was the biggest

difference this weekend. It’s been good all season long, and then it kind of exploded on us this weekend.”

Despite the goaltending problems, Lucia was much happier with the players’ efforts on Saturday.

After falling behind 4-1, the Gophers began to claw back. Forward Matt Koalska sliced to the net and scored midway through the second period.

Then, less than three minutes into the third period, Minnesota cut Denver’s lead to one.

On the play, Tyler Hirsch fired a shot from the right circle that Pioneers goaltender Adam Berkhoel blocked. The puck sat in the crease behind Berkhoel. Gophers forward Jerrid Reinholz dove forward and knocked it in.

The Pioneers thwarted Minnesota’s momentum with five minutes remaining when Matt Laatsch intercepted a pass and scored on the odd-man rush.

“I give our guys credit,” Lucia said. “We battled and battled and battled, but then that fifth goal killed us.”

Johnson replaced freshman Kellen Briggs in the net after Denver’s second goal 7:35 into the game.

On the other end of the ice, Berkhoel stopped 34 Minnesota shots and rarely allowed second chances.

Berkhoel had a lot of help in front of him, as eight different Denver players had a hand in the scoring.

“We gave them the momentum by allowing that big goal,” Berkhoel said of Reinholz’s third-period score. “But this was the best two-game series we’ve played this season.”

The Gophers were swept two weeks ago by Minnesota-Duluth. After this weekend’s series, they stand tied with the Pioneers for fifth place in the WCHA.

“The most frustrating thing about the whole deal was that we worked hard tonight,” defenseman Chris Harrington said. “We peppered the goal, but it seemed like we were working a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction.”

On Friday, the Gophers lost 6-2, allowing two even-strength goals each period.

It was only the second time this year Minnesota lost when shutting out its opponent on the power play.

“We have to have continuity and play as a five-man unit,” Lucia said. “We got our rear ends kicked in five-on-five tonight.”