>GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Freshman Mike Hoeffel sure picked a heck of a time to have a breakout game.
Minnesota desperately needed a win after dropping the first game of the series, and Hoeffel lifted the Gophers to victory Saturday night.
Rochester institute of technology
what: Men’s hockey
when: 7:07 p.m., Wed., Dec. 19
where: Mariucci Arena
Hoeffel entered the Ralph Engelstad Arena having never experienced the insanity that the space contains when Minnesota comes to town. He calmly responded to heckles and jeers with two goals to carry the Gophers to victory and a weekend split with North Dakota.
Hoeffel started the scoring Saturday night and scored again in the second period in a game that Minnesota needed to win to gain momentum heading into the second half of the schedule.
“We needed that. We need those freshmen to grow and Mike’s first two goals were big,” head coach Don Lucia said.
Hoeffel entered the game with just one goal on the season and he tripled his season total in the difficult atmosphere of The Ralph.
Sioux fans were loud in the beginning of the game and brought signs of “Exterminate the Gophers” and a toy gopher tied by a noose. Later in the game a North Dakota fan threw a real dead gopher on to the ice.
Unfazed by the adversity Hoeffel silenced the crowd quickly. He scored just 2:37 into the game to give Minnesota a lead for the first time on the weekend.
Then in the second period, he scored once again when senior Mike Howe sent a pass towards Hoeffel who fired into the upper right corner of the net again for his second goal of the game.
He looked mature on the ice and he said wants to continue putting together performances like he did Saturday night.
“Hopefully tonight was a breakout night and I can carry that into the second half and produce a little more offensively,” Hoeffel said.
The Gophers will need Hoeffel and the rest of the freshmen to step up quickly if they hope to continue to compete in the WCHA.
With the offense averaging just 2.47 goals per game, Minnesota needs to find points and if Hoeffel’s performance gives any indication, perhaps the points can come from the freshmen.
Up to this point they have had little production from the cast of first-year players. Defenseman Cade Fairchild leads the class with 10 points.
“We knew we had to play well all weekend,” freshman goaltender Alex Kangas said. “We knew we had to bring it for six periods. I’m proud of the way we played.”
Kangas has looked more mature in goal lately as well. Kangas improved his record to 3-2-1 on the year by turning away 22 Sioux shots on the evening.
He endured a furious final two minutes of the game when North Dakota attempted to tie the game at four.
The Gophers defense and Kangas proved up to the challenge and held on to the victory to get Minnesota heading in the right direction before the second half of the season opens.
“We want to go out on a good feeling and get things started for the second half of the year,” Kangas said.
If the Gophers can continue to find performances like Hoeffel and Kangas gave Saturday, they just might get things turned around.