Gophers finish second in Alaska

Mike Mullen

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team took a long flight to get to Anchorage, Alaska, for the Frontier Classic, but raining fish and a first-time goaltender ruined the trip.

The Gophers beat Massachusetts 1-0 on Friday with a last-minute goal from Ryan Potulny, but dropped the championship 3-2 to host Alaska-Anchorage Saturday.

“We went up there to do two things: win the championship and evaluate our roster,” coach Don Lucia said. “We got a good look at a lot of our players this weekend, and hopefully over the next couple weeks, we’ll get a little better at scoring goals.”

In Saturday’s championship, Minnesota faced Alaska-Anchorage on its home ice. Sullivan Arena held a rowdy and packed crowd of 5,082 – a steep departure from the 17,409 fans on Oct. 9 who filled the Xcel Energy Center for the Hall of Fame Game.

The crowd took part in a long-standing ritual, throwing fish on the ice after the Seawolves’ first goal. Although warned not to, the crowd pelted the ice with the frozen king salmon heads again when Matt Hanson scored on a breakaway to put Alaska-Anchorage ahead 2-1 at 7:26 of the second period.

The fans were penalized with a bench minor, and defenseman Alex Goligoski knotted the score at 2-2 on the ensuing power play.

“They had some good fans,” Potulny said. “It was pretty weird seeing a bunch of fish flying onto the ice, but I guess they got to do what they got to do up there.”

The Gophers said they brought the game-winning goal upon themselves, thanks to five third-period penalties that resulted in a pair of five-on-three advantages for Alaska-Anchorage. Shea Hamilton netted the Seawolves’ third goal – and his second of the night – nine minutes into the third period, beating Gophers goalie Justin Johnson on a rebound while Minnesota was two men down.

“We played hard those first two periods and kept ourselves in the game,” Lucia said. “That’s when the parade to the penalty box started. I think we’re still – especially our freshman, coming from junior hockey – still getting used to the new holding rules.”

Minnesota had chances to tie the score, but the team couldn’t beat freshman goaltender Nathan Lawson, who made 36 saves in his collegiate debut. Lucia said he was satisfied with his team’s performance and that on another night, things might have ended differently.

As it happened, the loss was Minnesota’s first to an unranked opponent since Oct. 10, 2003, against the Seawolves, 6-4 in Anchorage.

Minnesota’s first-round game in the four-team tournament featured scoreless hockey for the first 59 minutes, which Lucia credited to the Minutemen’s defensive style of play.

“I knew within the first five minutes that it was going to be a low-scoring game,” he said. “You could tell it was going to be a 2-1 or 1-0 kind of game.”

With the Gophers (2-1) threatening and just more than 30 seconds left on the clock, freshman wing Kris Chucko took a pass from Danny Irmen and flipped a backhand toward the goal. Potulny got the puck on his stick and scored – also with a backhand – on Massachusetts goalie Gabe Winer. Potulny said the goal electrified the Gophers bench and locker room.

“That was pretty exciting,” Potulny said. “They played us well, and we didn’t get a lot of chances, so I think everyone was excited when we were able to get that goal.”