Hockey earns stern words, series split

Sarah Mitchell

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — With the exception of Erik Westrum’s skates, a stillness fell over Minnesota’s men’s hockey team Saturday as it stood listening to the national anthem.
The senior’s fidgety feet moved in rhythm with the left-to-right motion of his hockey stick, back-and-forth over the World Arena ice.
Anxiety, maybe.
Following the Gophers’ (2-5-1, 1-2-1 WCHA) 3-0 loss to Colorado College on Friday — Gophers coach Don Lucia’s first game against his former team — Minnesota’s coaching staff let its disappointment show. Along with the yelling came some message-sending line changes, including Westrum’s demotion from first line to third.
The Gophers responded. Minnesota senior Nate Miller’s two goals and improved play by his teammates Saturday lifted the Gophers to a 2-1 win over Colorado College (4-3-0, 2-2-0).
“It was well deserved yelling,” Miller said. “The coaches, they try to keep a pretty even keel, but we gave them a pretty good reason to get upset. We knew it ourselves, too.”
Like the opener, Saturday’s first period ended in a scoreless tie. Sloppy play prompted even more line changes by Lucia.
Nearly 13 minutes into the second period, Lucia’s tinkering paid off. Minnesota scored its first goal of the weekend.
Miller’s shot from the right circle deflected off the pads of Tigers goalie Jeff Sanger and into the net. Gophers wingers Jeff Taffe and Matt Leimbek assisted on the power-play goal.
Colorado College tied the game early in the third period. But the captain Miller wasn’t done scoring. He countered at nine minutes, 47 seconds when he snagged a rebound and went up the middle with one of his own.
“He came down and blew it past me,” Sanger said. “It was a good shot.”
Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser withstood a flurry of Tigers attacks in the game’s final minutes — he ended the night with 39 saves. The Gophers defeated Colorado College for the first time since Feb. 22, 1997, snapping a 10-game losing streak to the Tigers.
“We’ve been in a bit of a rut against them so it’s nice to get that monkey off our back,” Miller said. “And I’m sure if feels good for coach to get this win, too.”
Saturday’s win salvaged two WCHA points for the Gophers after being shut out Friday.
Down 2-0 in the second period, the Gophers were plagued by poor passing and low energy — Minnesota had only three shots on goal in the second.
“I was upset. One of the things we’ve talked about is give an effort,” Lucia said. “In the third period we played a little better, but the game was already decided in the second period.”
The Tigers tapped in one more in the third. Junior winger Justin Morrison posted his first of the season.
Minnesota continues its road trip next weekend with a two-game series at Wisconsin. If plagued by sloppy play again, the Gophers will have to find a new source of motivation.
“I told them we’re done yelling,” Lucia said.

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]