Sweep propels U into top spot

Michael Rand

It was interesting to listen to the terminology used by Gophers hockey players in the week leading up to this weekend’s road series against last-place Michigan Tech.
As players talked about how important it was to defeat the Huskies and how Michigan Tech — a team in the midst of a 17-game winless streak — could not be overlooked in anticipation of next weekend’s series against North Dakota, they always referred to the potential of the weekend as “four points” and not two wins.
Now, it’s not abnormal to refer to wins in terms of points. But when every player said the same thing, one would be led to wonder what was causing the phenomenon.
The conclusion: The Gophers players — conscious of the logjam at the top of the WCHA entering the weekend (four teams were separated by one point) — were thinking of the weekend more in terms of gaining in the standings than in terms of beating the Huskies.
The Gophers weren’t overlooking Michigan Tech, but their sights weren’t just set on MacInnes Student Ice Arena — they were set on the big picture.
Call it four points. Call it two wins. It doesn’t matter now. What does matter to the Gophers players is they got what they needed.
Despite some precarious moments, Minnesota twice defeated Michigan Tech by comfortable margins, 5-2 on Friday and 8-4 on Saturday. The sweep moved the Gophers (18-8, 15-7 in the WCHA) into sole possession of first place in the WCHA. St. Cloud State played a non-conference series while the two other front-runners, Colorado College and North Dakota, split their series.
“We would have been down a lot if we would have blown this chance,” senior Nick Checco said. “It’s just good that we swept them.”
The Gophers actually trailed 3-1 midway through the first period in Saturday night’s game before scoring three goals in the final 5:24 of the period to regain the lead.
Minnesota never trailed after that point and widened its gap in the third period with goals by Wyatt Smith, Dan Hendrickson and Erik Rasmussen.
“We were down 3-1 and we were playing for first place,” Checco said. “We just had to pull it together, and we did.”
The Gophers had a similar defining moment on Friday night. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, Minnesota allowed a pair of goals to Michigan Tech in the second period. Entering the third period ahead by just one goal, the Gophers pulled away.
Minnesota’s special teams — which were great all weekend — produced the break the team needed. Smith’s shorthanded goal, off a feed from Mike Anderson, gave the team a two-goal cushion. Reggie Berg’s goal with less than a minute to play clinched the victory for the Gophers.
In addition to improving their position in the WCHA standings, the Gophers also padded several team and individual statistics on the weekend.
Minnesota was 6-for-17 (35 percent) on the power play, while holding Michigan Tech to just two power play goals in 16 chances.
Defenseman Mike Crowley had eight assists in the two games, bringing his season total to 27. Clymer had four goals and an assist, including a hat trick in Saturday’s win. Dave Spehar had a goal and four assists, while Rasmussen added a goal and three assists.
Despite the high point totals for individual players, the most important points were, of course, the four that came with the sweep.
“Nothing less than four points is what we wanted,” Checco said.
No matter how it’s said, it sounds good to the Gophers.

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY

Gophers 3 0 2 — 5
Michigan Tech 0 2 0 — 2

First Period: Min — Spehar 8 (Crowley, Clymer) PPG, 8:21. Min — Woog 2 (Kraft), 14:40. Min — Clymer 3 (Rasmussen, Crowley), 18:48.
Second Period: MTU — Perrett 2 (Aitken, Mueller), 3:35. MTU — Mikesch 6 (Meyers, Mueller), 19:37.
Third Period: Min — Smith 6 (Anderson) SHG, 6:15. Min — Berg 6 (Rasmussen, Crowley), 19:34.
A-2,041

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY

Gophers 4 1 3 — 8
Michigan Tech 3 1 0 — 4

First Period: MTU — Mikesch 7 (Meyers), 0:18. Min — Clymer 4 (Crowley, Rasmussen) PPG, 8:21. MTU — Savage 10 (VanTighem, Nelson) PPG, 12:58. MTU — Jensen 1 (Korczak, Savage) PPG, 14:19. Min — Clymer 5 (Hendrickson) SHG, 14:36. Min — Clymer 6 (Crowley, Hankinson) PPG, 16:11. Min — Kraft 14 (Spehar, Smith) PPG, 19:07.
Second Period: Min — Berg 7 (Spehar, Crowley) PPG, 5:59. MTU — Peterson 12 (Nelson), 12:17.
Third Period: Min — Smith 7 (Spehar, Crowley), 5:18. Min — Hendrickson 2 (Anderson, Woog), 13:42. Min — Rasmussen 12 (Crowley, Spehar) PPG, 16:35.
A-2,140.