Gophers return to form in series at CC

Michael Rand

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When the clock showed all zeros Saturday afternoon, Steve DeBus leapt into the air and looked for a teammate to hug. Having not reached anyone yet, the Gophers goalie jumped again. The emphatic pile that eventually engulfed him may have suggested Minnesota had just won its first NCAA hockey title since 1979.
Although that wasn’t the case, some other long-awaited events from the Gophers 3-3 tie on Friday and 3-0 win on Saturday at Colorado College suggest a national championship is a more realistic goal than it appeared to be two weeks ago.
ù Minnesota became the first team to gain more than two points at Colorado College since the 1992-93 season.
ù DeBus earned his first shutout of the season and, in the process, gave the Gophers their first-ever shutout at Colorado College.
ù Most importantly, the Gophers had all four lines on the same page for an entire series for the first time this season that coach Doug Woog can recall. In a crucial series against a good team, Minnesota came up big.
“We sustained a good energy level, and we were very consistent,” Woog said. “It was big because we beat a contender.”
By taking three points, the Gophers assured themselves of no worse than a third place finish in the WCHA heading into the final series of the year against Wisconsin next weekend. The three teams directly below Minnesota in the standings prior to this weekend — St. Cloud State, Colorado College and Wisconsin — all lost ground. North Dakota clinched a share of the WCHA title by sweeping Alaska-Anchorage.
Freshman Dave Spehar put Minnesota ahead 1-0 less than seven minutes into Saturday’s game when he snuck out in front of goalie Judd Lambert and tucked a low shot past him. Mike Anderson added another goal five minutes later to increase the lead to 2-0.
Both teams generated scoring chances after that point, but DeBus and CC goalie Judd Lambert were sharp. A strong forechecking effort kept the Gophers in the Tigers’ end of the rink for the majority of the game, and except for a stretch toward the end of the second period, Minnesota’s defensemen did a good job of smothering Colorado College’s forwards.
“This wasn’t an individual shutout, this was a team thing,” DeBus said. “These are the kinds of games we needed in the past few weeks.”
Lambert made 40 saves — compared with 27 for DeBus — before being pulled with 1:28 left in the game. Wyatt Smith’s empty net goal with 1:09 left capped the scoring.
Smith’s two goals on Friday, particularly his second one, were decidedly more important and dramatic. His slap shot off of the shin pad of Colorado College defenseman Dan Peters gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead at 14:03 of the second period. A pair of power play goals later in the period gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
Minnesota had a few good chances against goalie Jason Cugnet in the third period, but the freshman goalie appeared to be unsolvable. With less than two minutes remaining, Smith redirected a Bill Kohn slap shot and the puck somehow found its way between Cugnet’s legs to tie the game 3-3.
Smith almost ended the game in regulation, but his shot off a feed from Ryan Kraft with 10 seconds left sailed wide.
“There’s no doubt I would love to have that one over,” Smith said.
Cugnet made several key saves in overtime to preserve the tie. As was the case Saturday, the Gophers held a large shot advantage, 43-25.
“At least we got something for our effort,” Woog said. “It would have been a tough one to swallow if we had lost.”
Instead, the late comeback helped the Gophers sustain the momentum they gained in last Saturday’s 7-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth.
After the UMD game, players maintained a guarded optimism that they had solved the problems — inconsistency and lethargy, to name a couple — that plagued them for the first two-thirds of the season. Following this weekend’s series, the sentiment was even stronger.
“Everyone enjoys it so much more when we’re playing as a team,” DeBus said. “This was by far our best weekend of the season. I think everyone believes that.”
Notes: Gophers defenseman Mike Crowley left Saturday’s game early in the third period with a puncture wound in his lower leg. The injury did not appear to be serious, and his status will be updated later in the week.

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 1 1 1 0 — 3
Colorado College 1 2 0 0 — 3

First Period: Col — Kryway 12 (B. Swanson), 6:12. Min — Hankinson 12 (Crowley, Hendrickson), 11:40.
Second Period: Min — Smith 11 (Crowley, Kohn) PPG, 14:03. Col — Bodtker 15 (T. Peterson, Elfring) PPG, 15:15. Col — T. Peterson 11 (Kryway, S. Swanson) PPG, 16:31.
Third Period: Min — Smith 12 (Kohn, Rasmussen), 18:31.
Overtime: No scoring.
A-3,019.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 2 0 1 — 3
Colorado College 0 0 0 — 0

First Period: Min — Spehar 15 (Berg, Hankinson), 6:58. Min — Anderson 9 (Pagel), 11:33.
Second Period: No scoring.
Third Period: Min — Smith 13 (unassisted) ENG, 18:51.
A-2,984.