Urgency leads to series split

Adam Fink

MANKATO, Minn. – Moments after the final seconds had ticked away Saturday night, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team huddled at center ice to congratulate one another on the team’s 7-4 win.

As proud as they were of their effort against Minnesota State, Mankato, the fourth-ranked Gophers were even more ecstatic of the way the team responded after a tough start to the weekend.

The young Gophers let a two-goal, third-period lead slip away en route to a 3-2 loss Friday night.

On Saturday, the Gophers took a two-goal lead into the third period. This time, Minnesota didn’t hesitate to put the game out of reach.

“We played with a lot more energy (Saturday),” coach Don Lucia said. “We were winning face-offs and finishing checks. We really wanted to win this one.”

Following a team meeting earlier in the day, the Gophers (5-2-2, 2-1-1) came out more physical and with a sense of urgency Saturday.

Behind junior Joey Martin’s first career score and two points from fellow junior Paul Martin, Minnesota staged itself to a 4-1 lead in the second period.

“I wanted to be one of the guys to help pick others up,” Paul Martin said. “Everyone was pumped to get back out there.”

When goals by B.J. Abel and Grant Stevenson cut the Mavericks’ deficit to one, the Gophers began to see flashes of the previous night.

However, two of the team’s elder members, juniors Paul Martin and Troy Riddle, helped right what could have been a devastating weekend.

Paul Martin and freshman Thomas Vanek each scored a power-play goal in a span of 16 seconds. Riddle assisted on both tallies.

“No matter what, we had to keep our composure,” Riddle said. “We couldn’t let this one slip through our hands.”

Riddle – who leads the league with 12 goals – almost didn’t have a chance to suit up. The junior took a hard shot at the end of the second period Friday night and suffered a slight right shoulder separation.

After icing his injury Saturday, Riddle was given the green light by the medical staff to play.

The consensus from both teams following the game was Minnesota State, Mankato outplayed the Gophers, despite losing. The Mavericks outshot the Gophers 32-26 and had numerous odd-man rushes.

On Friday, the consensus from the teams was reversed. Minnesota outshot the Mavericks 37-20 and held command of the ice for most of the night.

The story of the game was Minnesota State, Mankato goaltender Jason Jensen. The junior goalie rebuffed numerous Minnesota fast breaks and quality shots, including a 6-on-4 Gophers advantage for the final 1:14 of the game.

It gave the Mavericks only their second win in the 13-game history of the schools.

“(Jensen) played unbelievable,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said, sweating profusely and receiving compliments from everyone around him. “He was amazing. I can’t say anything more about him.”

In a series Minnesota has previously dominated, leaving the Mankato Civic Center with a split wasn’t on the Gophers agenda.

But with the injuries and inexperience, rebounding from a tough defeat can be as valuable as four points.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]