It was not a good night to be a Gopher Hockey fan.
The Gophers fell 4-0 to arch-rival North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and looked outmatched in nearly every facet of the game. North Dakota won what seemed like every one-on-one puck battle, and had a large edge in the face-off column. The Gophers were outshot 43 to 22.
The Sioux got on the board early with a power play goal from Jason Gregoire. Gregoire picked up a loose puck after a broken play in front of the Gopher net and stuffed it home for a 1-0 Sioux lead.
The Gophers held the Sioux to just a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission, in large part thanks to some stellar saves by goalie Alex Kangas. Kangas' most memorable save in the first period came with just 5 seconds left. He stopped a partial breakaway chance by Christian Van de Velde with a nice glove save, and led the Gophers into the locker room.
The Gophs opened up the second period by earning a key power play. However, the Gophers were ineffective and seemed lost at times, and the Sioux took advantage, with Derrick LaPoint scoring shorthanded to give the Sioux a huge 2-0 lead that they would take into the second intermission. Again, Kangas came up huge for the Gophers and kept the team in the game, even though they were getting beat to every puck. One Gopher player that did not come up so large was David Fischer. Fischer looked terrible tonight. I had high hopes for him this year (he's in my players that need to step up blog post), but he appears to have regressed. He still made terrible decisions with the puck, and he still looked like someone poured concrete in his skates.
The game went downhill fast for the Gophers in the third.
Chay Genoway scored a power play goal, and Mario Lamoureux tacked on another goal on a 2-on-1 to give the Sioux a 4-0 lead. Brad Eidsness was solid in net for the Sioux, stopping all 22 Gopher shots he saw. The Gophers didn't have many great chances, as the team was lethargic and did not get to the front of the net at all.
The Sioux definitely were the more physical team, but the physicality wasn't the difference in this game. North Dakota was simply quicker to the puck and quicker with the puck than any Gopher player tonight. It often seemed like the Gophers were standing still and the Sioux were running around them all night.
In honor of Glen Sonmor, I'll provide a 3 Gopher Stars at the end of every game. After games like this one it's tough sometimes to come up with 3 stars, but I'll do my best:
3) Nick Leddy
Leddy had a solid game, and, being his first collegiate game, he was very poised and cool in the face of what had to be a tremendous amount of adversity. Factor in that he had to attempt to make up for what was an abysmal performance by his defensive partner David Fischer. All in all, a nice night for Leddy, who looks solid and should have a good year wearing the "M".
2) Taylor Matson
Matson was the only Gopher forward that looked like he belonged in the Maroon and Gold tonight. He battled for every puck and was perhaps the only Gopher player that looked like he could keep up with the Sioux quickness. He looks like a shot in the arm for the Gophers this year, and if the rest of the players can follow his lead the Gophers should play better tomorrow night.
1) Alex Kangas
Kangas was stellar tonight. He allowed four goals, but he stopped 39 shots and kept the team in the game all night. Not one of the four goals Kangas allowed were "his fault" - defense is a team thing and the defensemen and forwards did not give Kangas much help on any of the four Sioux goals. All the same, though, this is an impressive opening performance for Kangas, and it should bode well for the rest of the season.
Don't give up hope yet, sports fans! One game down and lots more to go, the season is young and there's (hopefully...) LOTS of room for improvement!