Gophers fall to 0-4 in WCHA

Brian Deutsch

Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia likes to use the phrase, “You aren’t going to win a lot of hockey games scoring one goal,” and with good reason.

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Minnesota State
what: Men’s Hockey
when:7:37 p.m., Friday
where: Mankato

The Gophers haven’t lost a game in which they’ve scored more than one goal this season, and they haven’t won a game with just one goal either.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, this weekend saw two of the latter as Minnesota dropped a pair of games to Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponent Denver – the first time the Pioneers have swept Minnesota at Mariucci Arena in 13 years.

The seventh-ranked Pioneers (6-2-0 overall, 3-1-0 WCHA) handed the Gophers their worst loss of the year with a 5-1 victory Friday and followed that offensive performance up with a 4-1 edging on Sunday afternoon.

For Minnesota, a 0-4 start to conference play is the team’s worst since the inception of the WCHA in 1959.

“In this league, you put yourself in a hole if you don’t get (conference) points in a weekend,” Lucia said.

The No. 8 Gophers (4-4-0, 0-4-0) couldn’t quite replicate the Pioneers’ offensive production despite out-shooting Denver 70-51 over the weekend.

Penalties took their toll on the Gophers over the weekend on both ends of the ice, while Denver had its best series of the season in terms of special teams.

After coming into the weekend on a 1-for-31 skid while on the advantage, the Pioneers made up for the recent lack of special teams scoring – going 3-for-7 on Friday and 1-for-4 Sunday.

Freshman forward Tyler Bozak even added two short-handed goals Sunday in route to a hat-trick.

His third and final goal came during a rare six-on-four opportunity for the Gophers.

After Denver senior forward Tom May was called for a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind in the final five minutes of play, Lucia decided to pull Kangas for the extra attacker with close to 2:30 left in regulation.

“The major was very timely for us in that we could run out the game by icing the puck,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.

But Bozak used the opportunity to chip a shot into the unguarded net from beyond the blue-line to notch the hat-trick with just under two minutes remaining and put the game well out of reach.

“Everyone’s been playing well,” Bozack said. “It’s just good to be the guy tonight who can put the puck in the net.”

In contrast, the Gophers found no such luck on special teams and were again blanked on the advantage this weekend – going 0-for-10 and extending their streak to 30 consecutive power plays without a score.

“It’s just a product of us pressing too hard,” senior Ben Gordon said of the team’s recent struggles.

But Lucia liked what he saw for the most part this weekend – his team played rather consistently and had a number of close chances.

“We’re not that far off,” Lucia said.

Inconsistencies in net

The Gophers goaltending gang followed up one of its best performances last weekend against Ohio State with two sub-par performances this weekend against Denver.

Junior Jeff Frazee got the loss for Minnesota Friday, giving up five goals on just 28 shots.

But another game and another net-minder didn’t solve the problem for Minnesota on Sunday as freshman Alex Kangas allowed three goals on 22 shots in his second-career start.

Both Minnesota goaltenders were outshined by Denver goalie Peter Mannino.

The senior turned away 68 of the 70 shots he faced over the weekend and in the process picked up his first two wins against Minnesota.