Herbie would be proud: Lucia’s jabs yield sweep

The coach sat several players and switched two lines before Saturday’s 4-1 win.

Ben Goessling

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Even after Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s first win in three weeks, coach Don Lucia wasn’t satisfied.

Yes, the Gophers beat the Huskies 5-4 Friday at Mariucci Arena and set themselves up for their first series sweep in six weeks.

But Lucia said he felt they had been outplayed – again – and in his mind, Minnesota had reached a point at which wins weren’t enough.

So Lucia went Herb Brooks on the Gophers.

He worked them, got into their heads, messed with their routines and said that if they didn’t respond, they would come right back from St. Cloud’s National Hockey Center on Saturday and figure things out.

And after all of Lucia’s cajoling, Minnesota finally fleshed out the kind of dominating performance it had sought for months.

Minnesota controlled play from the opening face-off Saturday, dropping St. Cloud State 4-1 before a sellout crowd of 6,537 fans.

“The intensity tonight was different,” Lucia said Saturday. “Last night we seemed dead. Tonight, you could see it on the bench. Guys were talking, they were into it.”

Minnesota (22-12-1, 15-10-1 WCHA) now heads into the weekend’s regular-season finale at Michigan Tech with an outside chance at third place in the conference.

But, more importantly, the Gophers appear to be sorting out their problems at exactly the right time.

“Tonight was the way we have to play every night,” center Gino Guyer said. “When we play like that, we can beat anybody in the country.”

Minnesota came out hitting right from the get-go, when the newly constructed line of Guyer, Kris Chucko and Danny Irmen opened the game by dumping the puck deep in St. Cloud State’s zone and following with a salvo of body checks.

The Gophers took a 1-0 lead at 5:24 in the first period, when Evan Kaufmann drilled a shot past Huskies goaltender Jason Montgomery, who had fallen down on a scramble in front of the net.

Minnesota went up 2-0 with 13:49 left in the second period. Irmen and Chucko kept the puck in the Huskies’ zone long enough for Chucko to find a wide-open Guyer, who deked Montgomery to the ice before burying a backhand look.

St. Cloud State cut Minnesota’s lead to one just 45 seconds after Guyer’s goal, but Tyler Hirsch padded Minnesota’s cushion with 8:19 to play in the second, dragging the puck while moving to his right and firing a slick wrist shot past Montgomery.

Barry Tallackson added the Gophers’ fourth goal with 1:23 left in the game, but by that point, they had sewn things up with a suffocating display in the third period, holding the Huskies to just five shots.

“This was a total team defensive effort,” said goalie Justin Johnson, who assumed the starting role last week after Kellen Briggs broke a bone on the little finger of his left hand. “It was a lot easier than last night.”

Friday night, indeed, was a different story.

Or rather, it was the same one the Gophers have been stumbling through since January.

Minnesota did pull out a 5-4 win but blew a two-goal lead in the first two minutes of the third period for the second-consecutive game. The Gophers trailed 3-2 with less than 15 minutes to play before Alex Goligoski popped in two goals.

The Huskies outshot the Gophers 39-29, and pulled within one on a Dave Iannazzo goal with four seconds left.

“We shouldn’t have been behind at that point anyway,” Huskies coach Craig Dahl said. “I told the guys before the third period that we were going to win the game.”

But Dahl didn’t have much hope for that Saturday.

Instead, it was Minnesota that has reason to look up again.

“We had been getting down on ourselves,” Guyer said. “We’ve got guys that have been here before, and we knew it was time to go.”