Weekend split west on I-94

Chris Lempesis

ST. CLOUD – In its first two series of the season, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team proved to be quite a manic bunch, capable of some highs (week two’s sweep of Minnesota State-Mankato), but also some low lows (earning just one point against Alaska-Fairbanks in week one).

This weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series with St. Cloud State was emblematic of the season thus far.

Seventh-ranked Minnesota controlled the play from start to finish in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Huskies. The victory followed a subpar effort Friday in which the Gophers were outplayed over the final two periods, suffering a 3-2 loss.

“I thought we left some points on the rink (Friday) night and that’s what’s disappointing because you can’t get those back at the end of the year,” coach Don Lucia said. “But the bottom line (is) we’re 3-1 right now in the league.”

Minnesota improved to 3-1-0 in the WCHA (3-2-1 overall) mainly as a result of a huge second period Saturday.

The Gophers scored all three of their goals in the frame and outshot St. Cloud State (2-3-1, 1-2-1) 21-7 in what was maybe their best 20 minutes of the season so far. A bit of luck kicked off the outburst early in the period.

Potulny tried shooting a pass over to Kessel across the goal line on a second period power play, but Goepfert moved his foot and the puck hit off it and went in the net.

Kessel might have missed out on that goal, but it wasn’t too long before he got one of his own. Again, the goal came in a special teams situation and again, luck played a factor.

Thirty seconds into a short-handed situation, Kessel brought the puck in, made a move around St. Cloud State’s Brock Hooton and fired off a shot from between the circles. Goepfert made the initial save but the rebound came right back out to Kessel and he buried it on the backhand to make it a 2-0 game.

“I think you guys are going to see him do that a lot this year,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said of Kessel’s goal. “Thank God we won’t see him do that any more.”

While Kessel didn’t score any more Saturday, Minnesota’s special teams did.

The power-play unit accounted for the Gophers’ final goal of the night when junior defenseman Mike Vannelli blasted a one-timer past Goepfert at 10:19 of the second.

The power-play unit, which had been struggling coming into the game, was 2-for-8 Saturday and created a lot of good scoring chances.

“We just wanted to get shots on the net,” Potulny said. “Try to move the puck around. And we moved it around a couple of times and kind of got them to move around and open up lanes for us.”

The power play was just one of many things that didn’t click for Minnesota on Friday.

Despite a strong first period in which the Gophers out shot the Huskies 17-7 and controlled the play, the game was still tied 1-1 at the end of the period. Minnesota then pulled ahead 2-1 late in the second before the wheels came off in the first five minutes of the third.

In that span, the Huskies scored twice, the game-winner coming at 5:03 when forward Billy Hengen beat Gophers’ goalie Kellen Briggs on a rebound.

“I think we were all kind of embarrassed after (Friday) night,” Potulny said Saturday. “Felt that we were the better team and we should have won that game too.”

Motzko said the Minnesota team that showed up Saturday “has a great shot to be playing in April.”

But, at this point in the season, one would imagine Minnesota – who heads back on the road next weekend to face Minnesota-Duluth – is just hoping for a more even effort.