Friday, February 16, 2018

Gophers Fell #6 Buckeyes 2-1

Gates, Glover score for Gophers, Robson picks up another win in net

Minneapolis, MN - "We've been saying it for a while now: it's playoff hockey."

Jack Glover summed up his team's mindset following a nailbiting Gopher win Friday night at Mariucci Arena.  The Gophers (19-13-1 Overall, 10-10-1-1 B1G) beat the Ohio State Buckeyes (19-8-4, 12-8-1) by a 2-1 score in a tight, up-and-down thriller of a game that saw Glover get his first goal of the season, the game-winner at 9:43 of the second period.  Minnesota held on late, with defenseman Jack Sadek sweeping the puck off of the goal-line with less than a minute left to preserve the victory.

The Gophers were shot out of a cannon in the first few minutes of the game, dominating the possession and generating good quality scoring chances almost from the drop of the puck.  Ohio State drew an early cross-checking penalty when Scott Reedy went to the box at 2:03, but Minnesota deftly diffused the Buckeye chance and went back on the attack.

Junior Gates scored the first goal of the game and 10th of the season at 9:02 of the first for the Gophers.  Tyler Sheehy turned the puck over in the neutral zone on a nice backcheck before outletting the puck to Gates along the left wing wall.  Gates skated across the line, finding Tommy Novak for a one-timer in the slot.  OSU goalie Sean Romeo made the save, but Gates was following the shot, and put away the rebound to give Minnesota the 1-0 lead.

The Gophers increased the lead to 2-0 on Glover's goal near the halfway mark of the second.  Glover downplayed his role in the play, citing "great play by our forwards down low, working their D, which is what they're so good at," and a "lucky little deflection," but the senior defenseman should take more credit: Glover stepped around a sprawling Buckeye before picking his spot in the high slot and firing the puck past Romeo for what would eventually be the game-winning goal.

The Buckeyes got on the board on the powerplay late in the second, sending the game into the final frame at 2-1, which is where it would stay, despite 18 attempted shots throughout the period by the Buckeyes.  The key play of the third came with the goalie pulled, when Jack Sadek cleared the puck from off of the goal line behind Mat Robson, sealing the game for the Gophers.  Said Gates, the last minute was "pretty intense."  "Those are the fun ones, when everyone's into it, everyone is up on the bench, there's a lot on the line and we know that.  2-1 game, it's playoff hockey and we know that's how it's going to be come tournament time."

Mat Robson got the win between the pipes for the Gophers, making 21 saves to improve to 7-2-0 on the season.  The sophomore netminder has now started six straight games for the Maroon and Gold.  Sean Romeo drew the hard-luck loss for the Buckeyes, stopping 26 of 28 shots.

Minnesota has now won three straight after sweeping Wisconsin in Madison last weekend, and has won six of seven overall after being swept at home by Michigan in mid-January.  The Gophers have also nearly solidified their positioning in both the top four of the Big Ten standings (the top four teams get home-ice in the first round of the conference tournament), and in the PairWise Rankings, which are used to select the field of 16 teams that make the NCAA tournament.

When asked about what has clicked for the team recently, Gates praised the whole team getting into the right mindset.  "I think everyone is elevating their play.  Everyone's figuring out their role, and I think we're playing some good hockey right now."

The Gophers square off against Ohio State again Saturday afternoon.  The game is at 4PM, and can be seen on ESPNU, streamed on WatchESPN, and heard on AM1130.

Go Gophers!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Sheehy's 3rd Period Brace Beats Badgers

Madison, WI - It's about as hackneyed a cliche as there is, but Don Lucia always talks about his best players needing to play their best as the season winds down.

For Tyler Sheehy, who's been quiet nearly the entire season after an All-American sophomore campaign in 2016-2017, perhaps Friday night's game against Wisconsin was a much needed wake-up call.

Sheehy scored two go-ahead goals in the third period, including the eventual game-winner with just under five minutes left in the final frame, to drag the Gophers (17-13-1 Overall, 8-10-1-1 B1G) across the finish line with a 4-2 win over the Wisconsin Badgers (14-14-4, 8-10-3-1) Friday night.

The game started much like a typical Gopher-Badger series of old.  Minnesota had the better of the possession in the first, but Wisconsin capitalized on one of their few scoring chances midway through the period to take a 1-0 lead.

The script almost completely flipped in the second, when Gopher goalie Mat Robson turned aside all 23 Badger shots in the second (including 12 on Wisconsin's three powerplay chances), and Minnesota got the lone goal of the period on a tipped snapshot from the point.  Steve Johnson was credited with the goal, but the replays showed Brannon McManus deflecting the puck past Badger goalie Kyle Hayton to tie the game at just 1:56 of the frame.

The teams entered the third tied at 1-1, but Sheehy broke the tie early, slipping a rebound past Hayton at 0:39 to give the Gophers their first lead of the game at 2-1.  Wisconsin was able to tie just 1:35 later, when Jason Ford took advantage of a poor defensive play by Tyler Nanne to steal the puck and feed Matt Ustaski to knot the game at two goals each.

The teams traded chances as the clock wound down in the third, but Tyler Sheehy again broke the tie, leaking out of the right-wing corner and firing a low-angle wrist shot off of a one-time pass from Tommy Novak past Hayton to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead with 4:48 remaining in the 3rd.

Darian Romanko tacked on an empty-netter at 18:23 to complete the scoring for the Gophers and for the game, which finished 4-2 for the good guys.

Quietly effective, goaltender Mat Robson appears to have taken over the reins in net for the Gophers.  Robson has started each of the last four games for the Gophers, beating Michigan State 2-1 at Madison Square Garden before splitting against Notre Dame two weekends ago and beating Wisconsin Friday.  Robson stopped 38 of 40 shots Friday night to pick up his fifth win as a Gopher.  Expect to see junior Eric Schierhorn get back between the pipes eventually, but Don Lucia likes to ride the hot hand, and Robson has been solid in net for Minnesota.

The win pushes the Gophers up to 5th in the Big Ten conference standings with 26 points, behind Wisconsin (4th, 28 points) and Michigan (3rd, 29 points), but with two games in hand on each of them.  Minnesota needs to at least get to 4th place to secure a first-round home playoff series in the Big Ten postseason tournament.

Minnesota appears to have held-pat for now at 9th place in the PairWise Rankings.  According to Jim Dahl at CollegeHockeyRanked.com, the Gophers have a pretty solid chance to make the NCAA tournament if they win at least three of their remaining six games, and things start to look iffy if they win two or fewer.

The powerplay continues to be a killer for the Gopher offense - Minnesota is now 3 for its last 50 on the man-advantage after going 0-4 Friday against the Badgers, and are 55th out of 60 D1 college hockey teams at 12.6% for the season.  For those playing along at home, that's akin to the Gophers playing five full periods of 5-on-4 hockey and scoring only three goals.  The penalty kill was a perfect 4-4 against Wisconsin Friday night, but no amount of PK success is enough when you're clicking at 6% over your last 50 opportunities on the PP.

With one win down after Friday night, the Gophers will look to further improve their PWR and league table positioning while going for the road sweep Saturday.  The rubber match is at a more normal 7PM time, and can be seen on FSN+, streamed on Fox Sports Go or BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.

Go Gophers!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Mittelstadt's OT Winner Lifts Gophers Over Irish

Star Freshman Breaks 0-0 Tie with OT Game Winner

Minneapolis, MN - After playing good hockey in South Bend in November with nothing to show for it, the Minnesota Gophers were hungry to flip the script against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

It took more than the standard 60 minutes, but in the end the hometown fans went home happy.

Minnesota and Notre Dame played yet another exciting hockey game Friday night, with the Gophers dominating the game for the final 40 minutes of action but settling for a 0-0 tie heading into overtime.  Casey Mittelstadt scored 3:35 into the five-minute extra session to break the stalemate and give the Gophers a well-deserved victory.

One cold Friday night in November, Minnesota (16-12-1 Overall, 7-9-1 B1G) put 44 shots on Notre Dame (19-5-1, 13-2-0) but had to settle for a 1-0 defeat behind the stalwart goaltending effort of Irish goalkeeper Cale Morris.  Morris, who leads the nation in Sv% (.952) and is 3rd in GAA (1.62), looked like he was going to stymie the Gophers yet again, turning aside all 31 Gopher shots he faced in regulation.

Gopher goalie Mat Robson matched Morris' 60-minute shutout with one of his own, stopping 21-of-21 Notre Dame shots that came his way throughout regulation play.  No saves were bigger for Robson and the Gophers than those he made on the penalty kill in the final minutes of the game.  Gopher forward Brannon McManus took a tripping penalty with just 2:49 remaining in the 3rd period of a 0-0 tie game, but Robson and the Gopher penalty kill were able to keep the Notre Dame attackers off the board.

In the overtime session, both teams had good opportunities, and both goalies were solid.  The winning play was created by Casey Mittelstadt, who poked a puck through a defender's legs in the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush.  Mittelstadt entered the zone, passed the puck to Rem Pitlick in the high slot and continued to the net.  Pitlick's shot caught Morris up high, and the rebound fell right to Mittelstadt at the side of the net, who tucked the puck home for the game-winner at 3:35 of overtime.

Notre Dame, who had previously cruised through Big Ten competition, rattling off 13-straight conference wins and taking a death-grip over the Big Ten regular season crown, has entered what appears to be a mini-slump of late.  The Irish have now dropped two games in a row after losing their first Big Ten contest 5-0 last Sunday to Wisconsin in the United Center in Chicago before Friday's loss to Minnesota.  The Irish's last goal was an empty netter at 19:22 of the previous Friday's win over Wisconsin, which means that they have gone 124:13 without scoring a goal.

Minnesota, on the other hand, may be rounding into form.  After dropping a pair of games at home to Michigan, the Gophers have righted the ship, sweeping Michigan State on the road before notching the win over Notre Dame.  Minnesota's 23 league points are good for T-4th in conference, just one behind Michigan in third and 5 behind Ohio State in second.  The Gophers need to finish 4th or better in conference to earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, which will be played on campus sites for the first time this season.

Minnesota and Notre Dame square off again Saturday evening at 7PM.  The game can be seen on FSN+, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.

Go Gophers!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

An Open Letter to Eric Kaler, Mark Coyle, and the University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Mr. Kaler, Mr. Coyle, Regents of the University of Minnesota, and to anyone else reading this letter:

I love Gopher hockey.  Something needs to change.