Bittersweet tie still puts men’s hockey in second place

Adam Fink

There wasn’t any loud music blasting from Minnesota’s locker room following Saturday’s 1-1 tie with St. Cloud State.

The hallway underneath Mariucci Arena on Saturday night – normally bustling with activity – was unusually quiet.

Apparently earning second place – Minnesota’s highest finish since 1997 – in the WCHA isn’t such a good feeling after all.

After defeating the Huskies 5-3 at the National Hockey Center on Friday night, the two teams ended in a deadlock Saturday, leaving many of the Gophers players with a sour taste in their mouths.

However, the three-point weekend moved Minnesota from third place in the conference into a tie for second with Minnesota State-Mankato. Due to the seventh-ranked Gophers holding the edge in fewer goals allowed in the four games against the Mavericks this season, Minnesota takes the second seed.

The Gophers (20-8-9, 15-6-7 WCHA) face Michigan Tech in the first round of the conference playoffs Friday at Mariucci Arena.

Winning the tiebreaker was not the plan for Minnesota. A win would have given the Gophers

second place outright.

“It’s not as good of a feeling as I thought it would be,” said forward Troy Riddle, who notched the only Gophers goal Saturday night. “We want to win every game. We had good opportunities – that’s why it is disappointing.”

Riddle’s comments show the higher expectations Minnesota carries for itself with the playoffs beginning this weekend.

The Gophers are 10-2-4 in their past 16 games, with all lines playing well. In addition, goaltender Travis Weber, who has made the past four starts, has solidified himself as the top goalie.

Against the Huskies (16-13-5, 12-11-5), the sophomore allowed a combined four goals on 50 shots.

“We are starting to peak,” Weber said. “We wanted the sweep pretty badly. (But) I don’t see any negatives to take out of this game. We played well.”

Riddle’s goal at 5:18 of the second period completed the scoring for the evening, though both squads would see many more scoring opportunities.

Despite Saturday’s 1-1 tie, Minnesota did get a win Friday with resilience and determination.

The Gophers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period behind goals from Jake Fleming and Judd Stevens. But the Huskies’ Joe Motzko converted two penalties into two goals in a span of 20 seconds in the second period.

Despite a quick change of momentum, the Gophers didn’t relent.

Minnesota scored the final three goals of the period en route to its win.

“We fell asleep for a stretch in the second period,” defenseman Keith Ballard said. “(Responding) says a lot about our character.”

In the Pairwise Rankings, a USCHO.com computer system designed to mimic the NCAA selection committee’s process, the Gophers are ranked fifth.

The top four spots will likely earn the No. 1 seeds when the NCAA announces it selections March 23.

There is also optimism Minnesota will move up in the next two weeks due to the aftermath of the series with St. Cloud State.

The Gophers took three points, yet were discouraged with the results – proving the team expects more from themselves.

“It was a playoff-type atmosphere,” coach Don Lucia said. “Guys can be proud of taking second place. This team is learning to be successful.”

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and

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