As if an ugly loss Friday night at the hands of then 4-6-3 Michigan State wasn't bad enough, the Gophers were set to host the then-#8 Michigan Wolverines (8-3-4 overall coming into the game) in the last ever game of the College Hockey Showcase on Sunday afternoon. Would the Gophers give a good effort and play like they're capable of, or would they again mail it in and allow Michigan to walk all over them?
Sunday: 3-1 Gopher Win
I was actually quite nervous after the first ten minutes of the game. Michigan had tilted the ice and was constantly on the attack. However, the Gopher defense played a superb game all around, and goalie Alex Kangas was up to the task, stopping all 11 Michigan shots that came his way in the first. The Gophers did a nice job weathering the Wolverine storm before taking advantage of an offensive opportunity of their own at 14:50 of the period. Nate Condon and Jacob Cepis darted into the Michigan zone on a two-on-one, and Cepis slid a perfect pass through a Michigan defender to Condon, who made a nifty move and put the puck past Bryan Hogan for a 1-0 Minnesota lead. After the goal, the Gophers settled down and started to dictate the pace of the game. This would last until the last several minutes of the game.
The Gophers came out in the second period much like the last five minutes of the first, controlling play (for the most part) and getting several good chances. However, an Aaron Ness checking from behind call at 10:03 of the period put the Wolverines on a five minute powerplay. Great penalty kill efforts by nearly all the Gopher team allowed Minnesota to kill off the major, and one of the loudest roars of the season thus far in Mariucci Arena was heard when the Gophers returned to full strength. The penalty kill gave the Gophers all the momentum in the world, and it didn't take long before the team capitalized, with Nick Larson rocketing a slapshot past Bryan Hogan to give the Gophers that all-important two goal lead. The goal, at 17:10 of the period, was followed up quickly by Michigan's first goal of the game at 18:05, an effort goal that saw Scooter Vaughan take the puck from behind the net and jam it twice into Alex Kangas before getting it to squeeze past the Minnesota goalie and into the net. However, just seconds later Michigan had taken a penalty, and with only 16 seconds remaining on the clock Erik Haula took a goalmouth pass from Mike Hoeffel and roofed it for the Gophers' third goal of the game. A huge goal, it gave the Gophers another separation goal as well as the momentum heading into the locker room.
A solid Alex Kangas third period was all she wrote for the Wolverines. Kangas shut down Michigan, stopping 11 shots in the period to seal the victory. Michigan outshot the Gophers 11-4 in the period, and their desperation was obvious throughout the last 15 minutes of the game. However, Kangas and the Gopher defense were up to the challenge. You have to especially appreciate the effort of the Gopher defensemen, who had to play the second half of the game without Aaron Ness, who is arguably the best defensive defenseman on the team. All of the remaining defensemen (Kevin Wehrs, Cade Fairchild, Seth Helgeson, Mark Alt and Justin Holl) played good games to keep Michigan off the board in the third.
Gopher Player of the Game: Alex Kangas
Kangas stopped 35 Michigan shots to grab the victory for the Gophers. He was stellar when the Gophers needed it the most - in the first ten minutes of the game and the last ten minutes of the game - when Michigan was attacking hard. For his rock solid effort between the pipes, senior alternate captain Alex Kangas earns the Player of the Game honors.
Strange weekend for the Gophers. They lose horribly to a bad Michigan State team, and then come back and put together a great win against a very good Michigan squad. The key to this team is effort. If the Gophers play 10 good minutes of hockey like they did in the MSU game, they can lose to just about anybody. If, however, they play 50 good minutes of hockey, they can beat just about anybody. A win over Michigan WILL be big in the Pairwise rankings at the end of the year, and such a complete effort will hopefully be something the team can build on. Let's see if the Gophers can get two wins in Mankato this weekend and really turn the corner.