Offensive defensemen lift Gophers hockey

Tim Nichols

The sign outside of Williams Arena that previews coming attractions in Minnesota athletics should have shown a disclaimer before announcing the Gophers and North Dakota series.
Beware of flying pigs and scoring defensemen.
To Gophers fans, the idea of the defense scoring goals has become about as unrealistic as soaring swine.
But Minnesota received a goal from Jordan Leopold and two goals from Dylan Mills over the weekend, as the Gophers allowed their defensemen to pitch in a little more in the offensive zone and increase their goal-scoring opportunities.
“Our defense probably had the best chance to get the tie or win the game,” coach Doug Woog said. “That’s what we would like to do. If you can keep the puck in the offensive zone for a while, it gives those guys a chance to jump in.”
This Sioux series was the first time since the 1996-97 season that Minnesota showed off its defensemen in a true offensive sense. The Gophers also utilized a strong forechecking game that trapped the puck in the corners and allowed the defense to squeeze in from the blue line.
“It was something that we worked on all week, all year,” Woog said. “We need offensive zone puck possession in order to do that.”
The assertion of the defensemen on the offensive side of the ice sits well with blue-liner Mills. The sophomore doubled his career goal output by scoring two goals this weekend. He scored one goal all of last year, which also came against North Dakota.
“It’s nice to get the monkey off your back,” Mills said. “I was just lucky to get the puck in the net.”
The Duluth, Minn., native contends that it is not about scoring the goals, it is just being involved in the offense that will help the Gophers.
“Whether or not they are coming from the defense or offense doesn’t really matter,” Mills said. “But, the defense has to get the offense the puck; it doesn’t matter if we score. The defense just has to be part of the offense.”

Let’s get ready to rumble
North Dakota is the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason, but that reason is not its physical play.
“Their strength is their speed,” Dave Spehar said of North Dakota. “They’re not a real physical hockey club. At least I don’t think they are.”
Although they aren’t the prototypical bruising team, they do boast one of the best players in the country, and one of the most irritating opponents, Jason Blake. And with 33 seconds remaining in the game, Minnesota’s Erik Westrum decided to take matters into his own hands.
Or in this case, fists.
The rumble between Westrum and Blake wasn’t brutal by any means — it didn’t make World Wrestling Federation guru Vince McMahon want to pick up the phone or have “Stone Cold” Steve Austin quaking in his boots. But the fight was costly for Minnesota.
Westrum, who has scored three goals and three assists so far, was assessed a fighting major and a game disqualification, which automatically suspends him from Friday night’s game against Alaska-Anchorage.
“I’m not very happy; it had no positive effect for our team,” Woog said. “His lack of personal control hurts this team.
“And you can quote me on that.”

Slapshots
ù Minnesota’s Reggie Berg has always been a play maker. But when the Gophers’ senior scores two or more points, Minnesota is 27-1-1.
ù On the night John Mayasich’s no. 8 was retired, 9,908 people packed Mariucci Arena Saturday to see the Minnesota-North Dakota game. That is a new single game attendance record for an on-campus Gophers hockey game. A record for series attendance was also set, as 19,786 people bought tickets for both games.
ù Jordan Leopold’s goal against North Dakota on Friday was Minnesota’s first goal by a defenseman since Mar. 6 of last season when Ryan Trebil scored against St. Cloud State. It was the second goal by a defenseman in the Gophers’ last 70 goals scored.