Sioux sweep devastates U hockey

Michael Rand

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Appropriately, the first goal of the biggest series of the season to date in the WCHA was scored by a scrappy 5-foot-10 North Dakota sophomore following relentless forechecking by the Sioux and sloppy defense by the Gophers.
Jason Blake’s goal at 17:23 of the first period Friday night set the tone for the much-anticipated weekend. Not only did it give UND the all-important first goal of the game, but it signified which of the teams battling for first place wanted the top spot more.
Blake scored five goals in the two games, including a hat trick on Saturday, to propel the Sioux to a 6-4, 6-2 sweep of the Gophers. The wins moved UND (19-7-2 overall, 16-7-1 in the WCHA) into sole possession of first place in the WCHA while the losses left the Gophers (18-10, 15-9) wondering how they could come out flat for such a big game — again.
The Gophers needed only to look across the ice to see what they were lacking.
“Players like Blake are what make that team great almost every weekend,” Gophers goalie Steve DeBus said. “He has a great competitive spirit. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Sophomore Mike Anderson added, “It’s like (Associate Head Coach Mike Guentzel) said: That was the Jason Blake show.”
The word “show” is definitely appropriate. Often times the Gophers watched Blake like he was up on a stage performing his act. Instead of scratching and clawing along with him, it seemed like several Minnesota players threw up their hands and whipped out the white flags in surrender.
The series was a continuation of a troublesome trend for the Gophers. In every acknowledged “important” weekend, they fall short of pre-series expectations. They keep delivering the same pep talk on Wednesday or Thursday only to fizzle on the ice. Lackluster efforts against Denver, St. Cloud State and North Dakota since the holiday break — series in which Minnesota went 2-4 — are prime examples.
On Saturday night against UND, the Gophers held a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period after goals by Dave Spehar and Wyatt Smith. Minnesota still clung to a 2-1 lead after two periods, mainly because of DeBus’ stellar performance in goal.
Then, Blake took over.
After being stopped on a breakaway attempt late in the second period, the Moorhead, Minn., native had another chance all alone in the third period. He used essentially the same move, cutting left to shoot low on DeBus’ blocker side. This time, however, the shot went in, tying the game with 11:41 left.
Less than four minutes later, UND’s Peter Armbrust beat an out-of-position DeBus with a wrist shot from the slot to break the tie. When Blake scored barely more than a minute after that, the game was pretty much finished.
On Friday night, UND never trailed. Whenever Minnesota seemed to be gaining momentum — specifically after twice cutting North Dakota’s lead to one goal at 2-1 and 4-3 — the Sioux immediately regained control of the game by simply working harder.
“They’re a team that plays hard and plays with discipline,” said Gophers co-captain Casey Hankinson, who received a game disqualification for checking from behind in the first period of Saturday’s game. “The only thing I can say right now is that we’re consistently inconsistent.”
Inconsistency has prevented the Gophers from putting together even two consecutive good games against quality teams this season. Smith, who has scored a goal in all four of Minnesota’s games against North Dakota this season, said starting over all the time is frustrating.
“We’re always having to bounce back,” he said. “That’s been our biggest problem all year.”
The nagging question is: Why?
DeBus answered the question as well as anyone. When asked if the Gophers have a Blake-like player, one who combines natural ability with a consistent, all-out effort, the goalie replied, “At times.”
Appropriately, the final scene of the biggest series of the season to date in the WCHA was Blake, arms raised high to salute the crowd, skating off the ice toward the locker room of the league’s first-place team.

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 0 2 2 — 4
UND 2 2 2 — 6

First Period: UND — Ja. Blake 13 (Kallay, Panzer), 17:23. UND — Armbrust 7 (DeFauw, Pivetz), 18:12.
Second Period: Min — Smith 8 (Clymer), 4:47. UND — Bull 9 (K. Hoogsteen, D. Hoogsteen) PPG, 6:31. UND — Ja. Blake 14 (D. Hoogsteen, Murphy) PPG, 11:44. Min — Anderson 7 (Abrahamson, Hankinson), 15:13.
Third Period: Min — Spehar 9 (Smith, Pagel) PPG, 1:12. UND — Calder 4 (Ulmer, Henderson) PPG, 9:34. UND — Calder 5 (Henderson), 10:55. Min — Pagel 5 (Woog, Hankinson), 17:03.
A-6,067.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 2 0 0 — 2
UND 0 1 5 — 6

First Period: Min — Spehar 10 (Abrahamson), 12:03. Min — Smith 9 (Crowley, Kraft) PPG, 14:52.
Second Period: UND — Ja. Blake 15 (Murphy, D. Hoogsteen), 16:03.
Third Period: UND — Ja. Blake 16 (Panzer, Kallay), 8:19. UND — Armbrust 8 (D. Hoogsteen, Litke), 11:56. UND — Ja. Blake 17 (Kallay, Panzer), 13:19. UND — Litke 3 (Ulmer, Henderson), 16:47. UND — Henderson 8 (Calder) PPG, 18:43.
A-6,067.