Hockey locks up home ice in Duluth

Tim Nichols

DULUTH, Minn. — Something that looked like a distant, unattainable goal just a few weeks ago came to fruition Saturday night — the Gophers men’s hockey team will host a series in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Minnesota completed a commanding sweep of Minnesota-Duluth, 4-1 and 10-7. This, coupled with Colorado College’s sweep of Alaska-Anchorage, assures Minnesota (11-16-8 overall, 10-11-5 in the WCHA) of at least a tie for 5th place.
North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver and Wisconsin also clinched home ice for the first round.
“Our team played well all weekend, that’s what we needed,” said Reggie Berg, who scored four goals on Saturday. “We came to the point where we can take care of our own business. We did our part, now we have to sit back.”
If there’s one thing that happened Saturday, everybody did their part.
The Gophers have lamented for weeks that they are doing everything right except burying the puck. Well, that isn’t an excuse anymore.
Even defenseman Bill Kohn had two goals in Saturday’s goal-fest.
“I don’t know (how it happened), it was a long time coming,” said Kohn, who entered the game with one goal all season. “There have been weekends where I didn’t have a shot on goal at all.”
Kohn isn’t known for his offensive prowess, but on Saturday he seemed to be possessed by the spirits of great scoring defensemen of the past. Instead of being his normal thuggish self, he made slick passes and shot the puck with pinpoint precision.
But that just seemed to be par for the course on Saturday. Almost every goal was worthy of an ESPN SportsCenter highlight. Minnesota’s 5-for-6 effort on the power play (after going 0-for-8 the night before) looked awfully pretty, too.
“Beautiful plays, there were some wonderful hockey plays,” coach Doug Woog said. “Sixteen shots on the power play last night didn’t score a goal. All of a sudden, the power play was phenomenal.”
Friday’s game was marred by penalties and sluggish play. The nearly three-hour marathon featured 40 penalties for 105 minutes; 31 of those penalties came in the third period.
“Sometimes that’s the way it goes, emotions run high,” goaltender Adam Hauser said. “It’s part of the game, although it’s not necessary.”
But even with the play slowed by penalties, the Gophers were still able to make an offensive statement as senior Wyatt Smith notched a pure hat trick to pace the Gophers.
“I got lucky, I’ll tell you that,” Smith said. “The first one was made by a nice play from (Aaron Miskovich) off the boards, (Erik Westrum) on the next one and then a great play by (Jordan Leopold) just to pass it up to the top. I was just fortunate enough to knock it in.”
The referees took control of the game early on Saturday, allowing for a more open style of hockey. But no one could have guessed it would be that wide-open.
But still the Gophers are guaranteed home ice for the first round in the playoffs, with a chance to climb as high as third place if Michigan Tech takes at least three points from Denver this weekend.
So, for one weekend at least, mission accomplished.
“This is the first time since the Wisconsin series where we needed to accomplish something,” Woog said. “We still have to win games, and we did.”

SCORING SUMMARIES
Saturday
Minnesota-Duluth 5 2 0 — 7
Gophers 5 4 1 — 10
FIRST PERIOD: Minn — Smith 21 (Berg 23, Mills 10), PPG 3:03. UMD — Homstol 12 (Derow 7, Carlson 14), PPG 5:59. UMD — Medak 3 (Nelson 8), 7:03. Minn — Wendell 5 (Pagel 10, Pohl 7), PPG 8:30. UMD — Carlson 5 (Fibiger 16, Pogreba 6), PPG (5×3) 11:01. UMD — Pogreba 6 (Reierson 3, Coole 6), PPG 11:24. Minn — Berg 13 (Westrum 21, Smith 16), PPG 13:39. Minn — Kohn 2 (Leimbek 8, O’Leary 2), 17:42. Minn — Berg 14 (Smith 17), 19:06. UMD — Coole 3 (Derow 8, Homstol 20), 19:45.
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Pagel 3 (Pohl 8, Mills 11), PPG 1:19. UMD — Scissons 16 (Homstol 21, Carlson 15), PPG 2:35. UMD — Scissons 17 (C. Anderson 12), 5:41. Minn — Kohn 3 (Pohl 9), PPG 7:37. Minn — Anderson 8 (Wendell 5), 15:30. Minn — Berg 15 (Leopold 13, Angell 7), 15:58.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Berg 16 (unassisted), 17:27.

Friday
Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 1 — 1
Gophers 0 1 3 — 4
FIRST PERIOD: no scoring
SECOND PERIOD: Minn — Smith 18 (Miskovich 9), SHG 12:46.
THIRD PERIOD: Minn — Smith 19 (Westrum 20), :36. Minn — Smith 20 (Mills 9), 1:34. Minn — Westrum 8 (unassisted), SHG, 2:59. UMD — Derow 11 (Fibiger 15, Homstol 19), PPG (5×3) 4:16.