Gophers freshman winger Dan Welch was the last to join his teammates in the hand-shake line following Saturday’s game at Mariucci Arena. Hunched over with his elbows resting on the boards, Welch lingered on the bench, obviously dejected about Minnesota’s 3-2 loss to North Dakota.
Welch wasn’t part of Minnesota’s lackluster team last season, but his post-game demeanor had him looking like a veteran who suffered his share of disappointments. The Gophers (0-3-1 overall, 0-1-1 in the WCHA) skated through Saturday’s game like the struggling squads of the last two seasons.
Trying to rebound from Friday’s 2-2 tie with the defending WCHA regular season champion Sioux (1-0-1, 1-0-1), Minnesota was lethargic. Gone were the crisp passes and swift puck movement, which allowed a speedier North Dakota team to control the puck.
In their regular season-opening weekend, the Sioux scored a win and a tie to take home three of four points.
“We have to learn how to use each other,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “What I am seeing right now is one guy takes the puck and goes until he loses it.
“We have to have calmness when the puck is on our stick. We’re getting it and instead of looking up to make a play with it, (the puck) looks like a grenade on our stick.”
Like a grenade, North Dakota showcased a high-powered offense despite key losses from last season. Two Sioux freshmen — Ryan Bayda and Kevin Spiewak — made an impact, scoring their first career goals.
Sioux center Wes Dorsey was the only veteran to chip into North Dakota’s cause. The junior gave North Dakota a 1-0 lead on a power play 12 minutes, 53 seconds into the first period.
Welch answered back nearly two minutes later with his first goal as a Gopher. The freshman carried the puck to right corner of the net and banked a shot off the stick of Sioux goaltender Karl Goehring.
But Minnesota came out a different team in the second period. Bayda and Spiewak struck early, scoring within 22 seconds of each other. Before the period was four minutes old, North Dakota’s third and fourth lines put the game out of reach for the Gophers.
“They kind of raised the bar for themselves,” said Sioux coach Dean Blais of his freshmen. “They played as well as any line. It didn’t shorten the bench that much.”
The Gophers regained some of their first-period fire in the final minutes of the game. With most of his teammates hanging on the boards (including goaltender Adam Hauser, who was pulled for a sixth skater), Gophers freshman winger Shawn Roed scored a power-play goal with 34 seconds left to play.
“It was fun to watch because you could see the fire was there,” Hauser said. “I wasn’t in the net so there was a little extra incentive. It was nice to see the guys really respond to that.”
It wasn’t enough to get the Gophers into the win column, however — similar to the storyline in Friday’s game.
Gophers defenseman Jordan Leopold gave Minnesota an early 1-0 lead in the series opener. The sophomore beat Goehring on his right side on a power-play less than six minutes into first period.
Hauser — who stopped a career high 44 shots — was perfect until three minutes into the second when junior center Jeff Panzer also capitalized on a power-play, slipping a rebound past Hauser.
Minnesota responded in quick fashion, a skill Lucia said his team had been working on. Just 19 seconds later, Gophers senior Dave Spehar scored his first of the season with a backhander past Goehring.
The Gophers lead didn’t stand, however, as Sioux winger Lee Goren evened the score at 2-2 with little more than seven minutes to play. That score held up through overtime, giving Lucia his first point as Minnesota coach.
“You’ve got to learn how to win, too. North Dakota’s used to winning. They expect to win,” Lucia said. “We’ve got to get back to that, too. It’s a growing process.”
Lucia’s team needs to grow up soon, as Minnesota’s next four games are against teams currently ranked in the nation’s top 10. The Gophers host top-ranked Boston College next weekend, still searching for their first win of the season.
“If it comes down to basically believing in ourselves, you can start as individuals, believe in yourself and then believe in the guy next to you,” Hauser said.
Sarah Mitchell covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]