Coming off a surprising 3-2 victory over the #2 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had a rare chance to sweep the 12-3-2 Bulldogs, who had not been swept all year. Friday's Gopher victory stemmed from a 60-minute effort... could they give another solid effort and steal yet another win from the Bulldogs?
Sunday: 2-2 Tie
Alex Kangas did not dress for Sunday's game, so Kent Patterson got another start in net. Rightfully so, as well, since Patterson was the player of the game in Friday's contest. Patterson didn't have much to do in the first period, though, as the Gophers dominated the action.
Outshooting the Bulldogs 15-6 in the first period, the Gophers had tons and tons of scoring chances but could not convert. Perhaps the best of these chances was a Taylor Matson breakaway, but Bulldog goaltender Aaron Crandall made a big save to keep the game at a 0-0 tie. Minnesota finally did cash in on a powerplay opportunity late in the period, when Jake Hansen tipped a Justin Holl slapshot from the point, giving the Gophers another 1-0 lead. The goal came at 17:26 of the period and gave the Gophers a well-deserved lead. However, just like Friday night's game, the Bulldogs scored a last-minute goal to even the game. Duluth's high-powered scoring line struck again, as Jack Connelly sniped a shot into the upper corner of the net at 19:23 of the period to tie the game.
Friday night's game saw the Gophers come out strong in the second period despite giving up a late game-tying goal. Sunday was a different story, however. The Bulldogs absolutely and thoroughly controlled the second period from beginning to end. Duluth outshot the Gophers 22-5 in the middle frame, but Minnesota limited the damage nicely, giving up only one goal on Mike Seidel's near-perfect shot from below the circle on a strung out two-on-one attempt. Kent Patterson and the defense could do nothing to stop that shot, but other than that the Gopher defense stood tall, with lots of help from Patterson.
The Gophers kept the game within reach heading into the third, and capitalized on a great individual play from Jacob Cepis when the gritty senior forward stole the puck from a Bulldog defender and slid the puck through Crandall's five-hole to tie the game at two goals to two. After the Gopher goal at 5:24 of the period, both teams settled into their game-plans, for the first time matching each other up and down the ice. The game was very much in the balance until about the ten-minute mark of the period.
At that point, the Gophers drew a penalty when Jacob Cepis once again hustled and got tripped. Just ten seconds later, the Bulldogs cleared the puck down the ice, and Kyle Schmidt stole the puck from the Gopher defender and beat Kent Patterson. However, Schmidt's steal was ruled a hooking penalty by the referees, and the call gave the Gophers a 5-on-3 powerplay for nearly two whole minutes. Although the Gophers had a plethora of quality scoring chances, Aaron Crandall and the Bulldog defenders stiffened and turned back the Gopher attack.
Less than a minute after the Bulldog penalties expired, Max Gardiner checked a Bulldog player hard in the back, and was whistled for a five-minute major for checking-from-behind. The Bulldog powerplay now had five whole minutes to try and score against one of the worst penalty kills in the country. However, the Gophers came up with a big penalty kill and shut down the Bulldog attack. The third period finished 2-2, and the teams headed into overtime.
The overtime was fairly evenly played, and there were not too many big chances until Jacob Cepis again drew another big penalty which gave the Gophers just under two minutes of powerplay with a chance to win the game. Again, though, the Bulldog defense stopped the Gopher attackers, and both teams skated away with a hard-fought tie.
Gopher Player of the Game: Kent Patterson
Kent Patterson is again the Gopher player of the game, surrendering only two goals (on two impossible-to-save shots) on 43 Minnesota-Duluth shots. Patterson was the most important cog in keeping the game within reach once again, stopping numerous quality Bulldog chances, including all six of Minnesota-Duluth's powerplays opportunities. Without Patterson's consistent goaltending the Gophers would have been in trouble from the get-go, and Patterson was instrumental in the Gophers stealing one point tonight and three points on the weekend.
The Gophers go into the winter break at 9-7-2 overall and 6-6-2 in the WCHA. Minnesota is in a three-way tie for fifth place in the conference at 14 points, tied with Wisconsin and Colorado College. The Gophers are behind only Nebraska-Omaha (17 pts), UMD and Denver (20 pts) and North Dakota (22 pts).
I think that Minnesota has a great chance to make up some points in the standings in the second half. This team has won in the first half on talent alone. Goal scoring cannot be coached, and the Gophers have it. One would think that the defense will tighten up as the season moves along and the players learn more from their coaches as well as the very young defensive corps gains valuable WCHA experience. I can see this team pulling off a North Dakota-like run in the second half and being primed for a playoff run when the regular season is over.
The Gophers play next in the Mariucci Classic, with games against Union College and Ferris State. Both Union and Ferris State are ranked teams, so this non-conference series should be a very important for the Pairwise rankings which determine the NCAA tournament field. Let's hope the Gophers can pick up a couple wins on their way to a really good second half run!