Hockey suffers letdown against St. Cloud

Josh Linehan

When a team comes into the weekend with thoughts of a sweep dancing in their collective heads, a loss and a tie doesn’t do the trick.
Now, one emotion is evident on the faces of all those involved with Minnesota men’s hockey: frustration.
Frustration from storming back to erase a 3-1 deficit in the third Friday night only to have a defensive lapse cost the Gophers the game in overtime.
The frustration of holding a 2-0 lead into the 55th minute, before St. Cloud rallied to tie the game and force another overtime Saturday.
The frustration of a coach who watches a talented offensive team score only five goals over the weekend.
And the frustration on the face of Gophers forward John Pohl, who beat St. Cloud goaltender Scott Meyer with less than a minute to play in overtime Saturday, only to realize Meyer made a miraculous save when he saw nearly 10,000 Minnesota fans holding their heads in their hands.
Minnesota (6-11-2, 4-7-2 WCHA) never trailed Saturday, but never dominated either. The Gophers allowed the Huskies (10-8-1, 6-6-1) to climb back into the game late and salvage a tie.
Adam Hauser kept the Huskies out of the net for 55 minutes Saturday night, only to see two slip past him late.
“I told our guys, ‘look, you’re working pretty hard, you’re playing pretty good hockey, we’ve got time,'” St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl said. “They showed a lot of character to come back and tie it up.”
Minnesota coach Don Lucia said the Gophers didn’t play very well Saturday, despite the two-goal lead.
“Even though we were up 2-0, I didn’t think we had great jump or real good legs all night, and we struggled,” Lucia said.
Minnesota opened up its lead Saturday in the second period when John Pohl scored off a feed from Erik Westrum. The Gophers extended the margin to two goals after Doug Meyer knocked in his first of the season when St. Cloud’s Meyer left the crease to challenge a shot by Stuart Senden.
Pohl, who leads the team in scoring, had a chance to be the hero when he picked up a loose puck in front of the net with 30 seconds left in overtime. Pohl went to his backhand, and appeared to have Meyer beat. But the Huskies’ senior rolled onto his back and blocked Pohl’s shot with the back of his glove.
“If he makes a save like that, it just wasn’t meant to be,” Pohl said.
Dahl said he was impressed by the play of both teams’ goalies over the weekend, but felt fortunate his goalie could bail his team out at a critical juncture Saturday.
“Goalies at all levels have to make the saves they’re supposed to make, and then a few they aren’t, and that was definitely one of those. It saved the game,” Dahl said.
Meyer was also solid in goal Friday night too. He kept the Huskies in the game long enough to capitalize on a defensive lapse by the Gophers in overtime.
St. Cloud pulled out the win after Ritchie Larson scored on a 3-2 rush.
Minnesota left three forwards in deep to set up the break, and then failed to follow the puck-carrier after two Huskies crossed just inside the Gopher blue line, leaving Larson unaccounted for on the weak side.
“If you want a definition of how not to play a shift in overtime, that was it, and that’s what I’m really ticked off about,” Lucia said.
That shift wasted a third-period comeback that included a pretty tip-in by freshman Jeff Taffe and a backhanded goal from Pohl.
Those two finesse goals were needed to overcome two St. Cloud goals achieved by sheer force. The Huskies got two empty-net goals after Minnesota goalie Adam Hauser was knocked out of his crease by traffic in front of the net.

Note
ù Minnesota will play Wednesday’s night exhibition against Valerenga (Norway) without senior forward Dave Spehar, who suffered a mild head injury Saturday night. Spehar is expected to return for the Mariucci Classic beginning Dec. 29.

Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]