Quick Friday start yields two weekend points

Chris Lempesis

Although the weekend began as well as it could for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team, it ended with a performance that left something to be desired.

In a game that was there for the taking Saturday night, the Gophers never quite grabbed hold, dropping a 4-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association decision to North Dakota at Mariucci Arena. The loss ended Minnesota’s seven-game winning streak and came on the heels of Friday’s 6-1 victory over the Fighting Sioux.

“I think that (North Dakota) elevated their game, and I think we came down a notch,” coach Don Lucia said of the second-night performance. “And I think that’s why it was an even game. We had our chances.”

Scoring opportunities were indeed in abundance for the second-ranked Gophers (14-6-4, 9-5-2 WCHA) on Saturday as they flung 43 shots on goal. Minnesota was solid defensively, as well, limiting the Sioux to 27 shots on goal and keeping the strong scoring chances to a minimum.

This was very similar to Friday’s game, in which the Gophers outshot North Dakota 48-28. But, as Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s game, “There was just a different feeling tonight.”

And he was right. While these combined statistics added up to Minnesota controlling the play for a large portion of the contest Saturday, they didn’t add up on the scoreboard.

Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Chris Harrington ” both on the power play ” were the only Gophers to get pucks past Sioux goaltender Philippe Lamoureux.

On defense, the Gophers allowed 10th-ranked North Dakota (15-10-1, 8-8-0) to scrape out a goal in each of the first two periods before giving up the game-winner to Travis Zajac with 1:22 remaining in the game. The Sioux added an empty-net goal with 24.8 seconds to play.

“(There’s) disappointment,” Harrington said. “It’s not like we played bad, we just ” I don’t think we played as well as we could have mentally.”

It would be tough to imagine Minnesota playing any better, mentally or otherwise, than it did Friday.

The Gophers came out with an intensity perhaps previously unseen this season, as they were in complete control from start to finish.

Minnesota fired off the first 14 shots of the game and didn’t allow the Sioux a single shot on goal until 11:10 into the game. The Gophers allowed the visitors only three shots for the first 20 minutes but still led just 1-0 on a goal from Goligoski.

Then came the second period.

That frame saw Minnesota explode for four goals. Two came from defenseman Mike Vannelli, who had two all season up to that point. Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen added single markers as the two continued their successes against the team from their home state.

“We really came out as a team and worked hard and used each other really well,” Irmen said.

“It wasn’t just one or two guys tonight. It was all four lines, all six “D’ and our goaltender.”

Goalie returns favor

The Gophers certainly saw a more emotional North Dakota team Saturday night.

That was evident during Lamoureux’s celebration after Zajac’s game-winning goal with 1:22 to play.

The goalie skated around on the Sioux end of the ice, banging on the sections of glass with his stick in an apparent gesture toward the fans at Mariucci.

Lamoureux said it was in retaliation for Irmen’s jersey-pulling gesture directed at the student section in the Engelstad Arena during the first series between the teams back in mid-December.

“I know Danny very well, and I know how competitive he is. And I’m just as competitive,” Lamoureux said. “Any time I can beat those guys, it’s definitely big for me. But, at the same time, too, I have nothing but respect for those guys.”