Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gophers Keep Playoff Hopes Alive with Sweep of Colorado College

After a disappointing two losses against Denver University, the Gophers could have given up hope for the season. They apparently decided to keep fighting.

The Gophers handed then #7 Colorado College two convincing losses, dominating nearly the whole of both weekend games.

Friday's game featured a tense first period, with Colorado College getting several excellent chances to score on Gopher goaltender Alex Kangas. Kangas, however, made quality saves on every shot the Tigers put on goal in the first period.

The goalie gave the team a chance to pull ahead, and the Gophers took that chance at 19:59 of the first period, with Patrick White lighting the lamp just before the horn sounded.

Both goalies pitched shutouts in the second period, with the Gopher defensemen playing stout defense and forcing Colorado College to settle for second-rate scoring chances.

Jordan Schroeder scored the separation goal at 1:38 of the third period, with Josh Birkholz adding a highlight-reel tally as he flipped the puck over a Tiger defender just inside the offensive blue-line before sniping a shot in the top corner past CC goalie and Minnesota native Joe Howe. Kangas came up with the first Gopher shutout of the season on arguably the best team-defensive game that the Gophers have played.

Saturday afternoon seemed to be just an extension of the Gopher domination of the last two periods on Friday night. The Gophers again got on the board first with a 5-on-3 powerplay goal by Mike Hoeffel at 13:11 of the first period. Just 40 seconds later, David Fischer gave the Gophers their second goal on a nice one-time pass from Josh Birkholz. Colorado College didn't waste any time, though, with Rylan Schwartz scoring on a nifty left-to-right deke across the Gopher goalmouth just 20 seconds after the Fischer goal. But the scoring spree wasn't over. 42 seconds later at 14:53, Aaron Ness chipped a shot past goalie Joe Howe, who was momentarily stunned after taking a hard shot to the facemask.

Every time Colorado College mounted a charge in this game, the Gophers had an answer. Gopher Josh Birkholz opened the period with a goal at 2:53. Colorado College played surprisingly without haste until Kris Fredheim's powerplay goal at 16:05 of the period, bringing the score of the game to 4-2. Just a minute and a half later, the Gophers struck back, with Nick Leddy scoring the separation goal and eventual game winner at 17:48.

CC wouldn't go down without a fight, though. All the haste that they lacked to open the second period they came out with in the third. Gabe Guentzel scored just 14 seconds into the third to cut the Gopher lead to 5-3. Three minutes later, Gopher defenseman Kevin Wehrs took a slapshot into a Tiger Tyler Johnson's shins and gave up a breakaway, which he put past Kangas to make the game 5-4. The first ten minutes of the third period were the only tense moments in the game. The Gophers settled down and controlled the remainder of the period, getting a goal with little more than three minutes left to clinch the win for the Maroon and Gold. Tony Lucia added an empty netter to make the final score of the game 7-4.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend:

3. Jacob Cepis

Cepis was a spark plug, hustling on both ends of the ice and setting up three Gopher goals on the weekend. This kid continues to be a needed bit of offense for this team and his addition gives the Gophers a fighting chance.

2. David Fischer

I'm not the biggest Fischer fan in the world, but he played a good series this weekend, getting a goal and playing the kind of physical, smart defense that we should expect from this first-round NHL draft pick. If he can begin to play like this more often down the stretch he can be a key asset on a team that lacks solid defenseive play.

1. Josh Birkholz

This freshman has blazing speed, and if he can start matching physical play and some sniping prowess he could be one of the team's best forwards in years to come. Right now, though, he's just a fourth line forward. If he can begin chipping in some goals and points from the fourth line the Gophers can become a more effective scoring team and might be a threat come playoff time.

The Gophers have another big series coming up next weekend in Duluth. They will face a reeling Bulldogs team that has lost two in a row and six of their last eight. With the Gophers playing well and the Bulldogs struggling this could be a great opportunity for the Maroon and Gold to get four more needed points in the WCHA. Every win counts, and the Gophers need to keep winning to keep their NCAA tournament chances alive. It should be an exciting weekend of hockey!

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