Solid play by goalies keeps strong offenses in check

by Adam Fink

Warming up about 15 minutes before the first puck was dropped in the Frozen Four semifinal, Minnesota and Michigan both focused on peppering their respective goaltenders.

With two offensive-minded teams, scoring goals – and lots of them – was the plan for the collegiate foes.

But it was the two players on the opposite ends of the bombardment of practice shots that stole the show.

The Gophers’ Travis Weber stopped 31 shots while his counterpart, Wolverine netminder Al Montoya, made 29 saves.

Unfortunately, one goalie must bear the loss, and it was Minnesota beating Michigan 3-2 in overtime at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

“We knew they had a great offense,” Weber said. “I like getting a lot of shots because it keeps me in the game.”

It was Weber who kept Minnesota in the game early. The sophomore stopped 14 of the 15 shots he saw in the first 20 minutes, including six slap shots which ended up in his glove.

Weber’s play was highlighted by a save he made midway through the first period. Michigan’s Andrew Ebbett received the puck as he moved from Weber’s right to left. With a quick motion, Ebbett attempted the one-timer. However, Weber’s outstretched leg pads thwarted the shot.

“Travis stood tall and gave us a chance to win,” coach Don Lucia said.

But freshman Montoya wasn’t outshone in a battle of goalies making their first appearances in the Frozen Four. And it was Montoya who prevented Minnesota from taking the lead late in the third period.

Forward Jon Waibel attempted to wrap the puck around the right side of the net and into the goal with 5:33 remaining in the game. Montoya appeared out of position but managed to get his right leg on the puck to maintain the knotted score.

“I knew it was going to come to me and (Weber),” the native of Glenview, Ill., said. “I should have done more to stop all three of their goals.”

Now the biggest game of the college hockey season awaits Minnesota: the national championship contest.

Despite entering the Frozen Four with the least statistically acclaimed goalie, the Gophers (27-8-9) feel they can take home a second straight championship even if their offense comes down with another bad case of nervousness.

“I don’t even know what to say about Travis,” Gophers captain Grant Potulny said. “But if we get another performance from him like we got tonight, we will probably be taking home the title.”

Save of the day

Paul Martin admits he could have cost the team the game.

Instead the defenseman made the save of the day.

The junior lunged to Weber’s right with only two and half minutes remaining and the end of his outstretched stick deflected the puck, shot from the Wolverines’ Jason Ryznar.

“It was actually my fault to start with,” Martin said, with a smile creeping across his face. “I should never have left my man and put Weber into that position.

“I am just glad I happened to get a piece of the shot.”

Martin was named to the second-team All-American squad Wednesday.

Penalty kill successful

Minnesota entered the game killing penalties at an 80.1 percent clip, a number not even cracking the top 15 nationally.

But the unit came through Thursday night.

Michigan went 0-for-5 with the man advantage. Lucia didn’t play a set rotation for any penalty kill situation.

On the other hand, the Gophers’ power play never looked in sync. The unit went 0-for-4, despite Lucia’s attempts to mix the rotation up.

Early on, Koalska, Riddle, Thomas Vanek, Keith Ballard and Paul Martin made up the first team. Then Riddle was substituted out in favor of Potulny. And finally, Tallackson moved up to the first team for Koalska.

The power play has a season success rate of 25.4 percent.