Gophers come up short in Colorado

Minnesota rallied to tie but fell to UND in overtime, one win shy of the Frozen Four.

Mark Remme

>DENVER – It looked like a replay from last weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five.

The top-seeded Minnesota men’s hockey team played a tight first round game Friday, this time with Air Force in the NCAA West Regional, and the Gophers escaped from the fourth-seeded Falcons with a 4-3 win at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

And just like the weekend before, Minnesota headed into overtime with third-seeded North Dakota knotted at two goals apiece.

That’s where the similarities end. Sioux senior forward Chris Porter snuck a wrap-around goal past Gophers sophomore goalie Jeff Frazee 9:43 into overtime to give North Dakota a 3-2 victory and a trip to St. Louis for the Frozen Four.

The Gophers, on the other hand, are heading home.

A tired Minnesota squad watched the Sioux win battles to loose pucks in overtime, and it was no surprise that the game-winner came on a hustle play by Porter, who fended off freshman defenseman Erik Johnson to find the back of the net.

“It’s true if you throw stuff to the net, you get good bounces once in a while,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.”

It didn’t surprise coach Don Lucia either, who quickly noted a big reason for that was the Gophers lost 49-of-79 draws in the contest.

“We got our rear ends handed to us on faceoffs,” Lucia said. “All game long we’re chasing and defending Ö when you finally get the puck, you don’t have a lot of energy left to do much offensively.”

But perhaps the biggest discrepancy between Minnesota’s 3-2 overtime win last weekend over North Dakota and this weekend’s 3-2 overtime loss was the play of each team’s second line.

The Sioux have arguably the best first line in college hockey in center Jonathan Toews, and wingers Ryan Duncan and T.J. Oshie. Lucia successfully neutralized that line in both games; putting pressure on North Dakota’s other lines to contribute in their place.

Meanwhile, center Blake Wheeler coupled with wingers Jay Barriball and Ben Gordon found ways to contribute last Saturday with Wheeler earning the game-winner.

This time around, Wheeler’s line struggled at both ends of the ice and despite Barriball’s game-tying power-play goal, it lost little battles to its North Dakota counterparts.

“I thought the play of (Chris) Vande Velde, (Chris) Porter and (Matt) Watkins were very good,” Lucia said. “I thought the play of that (second) line was the difference in the game tonight.”

Minnesota (31-10-3 overall) kept the dangerous Sioux power-play unit relatively silent during the man-advantage. North Dakota went just 1-for-5 on the power play one night after scoring five power-play goals in a 8-5 win against Michigan.

But the Sioux were far more effective on the penalty kill than the Gophers. Much of the time Minnesota had the man-advantage, North Dakota (24-13-5) dictated play and often had the edge in time of possession.

And when Sioux junior winger Kyle Radke committed a five-minute checking from behind major just 4:11 into the third, the Gophers couldn’t convert.

“They killed (penalties) well; they were making plays,” junior defenseman Alex Goligoski said, who played all weekend with a broken finger suffered in practice. “We kept running it down, but we couldn’t get anything going.”

In the end North Dakota was too strong, and Minnesota’s season is over while North Dakota heads to its third-straight Frozen Four appearance.

“It hurts,” Johnson said. “I think we could’ve played better but Ö every guy wanted to win and everybody sacrificed as much as they could to win.”