Hot goaltender could carry U through playoffs

by Tim Nichols

It’s one of the immutable laws of playoff hockey: If the goalie is hot, the team has a good chance of going deep into the playoffs.
If that time-tested rule holds true, watch out for Minnesota. Freshman goaltender Adam Hauser is coming off his best weekend ever as a Gopher.
“You’ve got to put everything behind you,” Hauser said about preparing for the playoffs. “You’ve got nothing to lose. I was just trying to be as prepared as I could.
“I wanted to make a personal challenge to the other goal. Like coach (Doug) Woog said, as long as I do better than the other goalie, we win.”
Hauser followed his coach’s advice throughout the series. He stopped all 43 shots he faced during the weekend; some saves were routine, but some were game-savers.
Alaska-Anchorage freshman Gregg Naumenko came into the series as the WCHA’s top statistical goaltender, and he played up to his billing. Although he came up on the losing end, Naumenko looked stellar in Saturday’s 1-0 loss.
“He’s a good goalie,” Reggie Berg said. “He’s played well all year. Fortunately, we got a bounce off (Rico) Pagel’s shaft and we won the game.”
But Hauser found his best game in time for the most important stretch of the season — even though the crowd really didn’t pick up on the playoff intensity.
“A playoff game is like any other game, it’s just played under different circumstances,” Hauser said. “If the crowd is not going to get into it, then that’s their business. It’s still the same game, we’re just going out trying to win.”
The defense deserves some credit for making Hauser look so good. As soon as a puck bounced off the goaltender, a defenseman was there to slide it out of harm’s way.
But that’s a little easier to do when the Gophers are playing Alaska-Anchorage.
“They play two guys on the attack,” Woog said. “They don’t commit their third guy very often. Most of the time you only have to worry about two players.”
Because of the Seawolves’ conservative game plan, Hauser could concentrate on making the initial save without trying to quickly regroup for the rebound.
For the last two minutes of Saturday’s game, the Seawolves pounded the Gophers net, struggling to tie up the game. But Hauser stood tall — and wide — to keep his third shutout of the season intact.
“It’s pandemonium,” Hauser said. “They are completely crashing the net, they have nothing to lose. They’re throwing everything they got, which is difficult. Sometimes people get lost, but we held strong.”
Minnesota now heads to the single-elimination tournament of the WCHA Final Five, where an off-night usually means a trip home.
Hauser needs to be huge if the Gophers want to advance deep into the Final Five and earn a shot at an NCAA tournament bid.
With the way he’s playing right now, and with the nearly home-ice advantage of Target Center, it’s not that much of a stretch to call the Gophers a favorite to win the conference tournament.
“The Gophers are playing very well,” Alaska-Anchorage coach Dean Talafous said. “They’re playing with confidence, they’re playing well enough to win the Final Five.”