Examine these facts carefully: The Gophers hockey team is the most penalized squad in the WCHA. Minnesota-Duluth is No. 2 in that category. When the teams met for a series in October, they combined for 137 minutes in penalties, a number even higher than their already high averages.
And the 150 miles of Interstate 35 that separate the two schools are not exactly paved with heart-shaped candy and roses.
Taking those factors into consideration, it was no surprise that the Gophers and Bulldogs turned the Valentine’s Day weekend into a anti-love affair.
The teams managed to outdo their earlier series by combining for 157 penalty minutes. A major fracas in the second period of Saturday’s game resulted in four 10-minute misconduct penalties (two for each team). It also produced an unlikely sparring match between Minnesota’s 5-foot-7 freshman Dave Spehar and UMD goalie Brant Nicklin — a fight that would have commanded no more than $1.50 on pay-per-view.
Aside from setting the tone for the series, penalties also played a large role in the outcome of both games.
Erik Rasmussen’s five-minute major penalty for leaving the Gophers bench to join a fight allowed the Bulldogs to score a crucial power play goal Friday that extended their lead to 5-3 late in the second period.
A rash of bad penalties by the Bulldogs the following night gave the Gophers 15 power plays. Minnesota scored five of its seven goals when UMD was shorthanded, including a key goal on a 5-on-3 power play early in the game.
“That turned the whole game around,” Bulldogs coach Mike Sertich said.
The results of both games should come as no surprise to the Gophers. When they take fewer penalties than their opponent, they are 10-2, but when they have the same amount or more penalties, they are 11-9.
Spehar recognized by league
He was booed up in Duluth and the UMD fans that made the trip to Mariucci Arena this weekend kept the jeers coming. But Spehar, a Duluth East graduate, had the last laugh. He had three goals and an assist in the series.
The WCHA on Monday named him rookie of the week.
Spehar leads all league rookies with 31 points and has at least one point in 16 of his last 17 games.
Hate to admit it, but …
Gophers and Bulldogs players probably don’t like the comparison, but the season series produced many similarities between the two teams.
ù Minnesota and UMD both won two games, splitting the series in Duluth and Minneapolis.
ù Both teams scored the same number of goals in the four-game series (19).
ù In every game, the second period was the key. In the Bulldogs’ wins, they outscored the Gophers 10-2 in the middle period, while Minnesota held a 7-2 advantage in its wins.
ù Gophers senior Nick Checco’s strained neck, which kept him out of Saturday’s game, is not a serious injury. He is probable for this weekend’s series at Colorado College.
ù Minnesota dropped one spot to seventh place in the latest Pairwise Rankings, a formula used by the NCAA to determine tournament teams.