The Gophers (10-9-3 overall, 7-7-2 WCHA) took to the ice last night against the Seawolves of the University of Alaska-Anchorage (7-12-3 overall, 6-10-2 WCHA), in a game that Minnesota would desperately like to win to begin a second-half charge into the playoffs. The Gophers are a more talented team than UAA, but as we've seen this season Minnesota can lose to teams that are supposedly worse than they are. Would the Maroon and Gold play with intensity and beat an inferior team, or would they lay another egg and make the game more difficult for themselves?
Friday: 5-1 Gopher Win
The Gophers certainly came out firing, outshooting the Seawolves 19-10 in the first period with many shots coming in the scoring areas. The advantage in shooting chances was reflected on the scoreboard early on, as Nate Condon fired a wrister past UAA goalie Rob Gunderson at 4:30 of the first period to give the Gophers an early 1-0 lead. Just a minute later, the Gophers connected on a 2-on-1 as Nick Larson found Tom Serratore who put the puck past Gunderson for a two goal Gopher lead. The Gophers kept the pressure on the Seawolves all period, but could not bulge the twine again in the period. Anchorage's Mitch Bruijsten, however, took advantage of a late power play chance and a Gopher lapse in defensive concentration to take a loose puck at the side of the net and score on a wrap-around to cut the Gopher lead to one, and both teams entered the locker rooms relatively happy. Anchorage had survived a Gopher onslaught to be down only one goal at the break, and the Gophers had netted two goals in the period.
The second period featured a quick UAA penalty, and the Gophers again took advantage of the chance to net another goal. Nick Larson's one-timed shot at the end of the power play again beat Gunderson to give Minnesota another two goal lead. The Gophers continued to dominate the play, holding most of the offensive-zone time and taking many more quality shots than Anchorage. The Gophers stretched their lead to 4-1 on a creative 3-on-2 play from Nick Bjugstad to Jake Hansen. Bjugstad gave Hansen a nifty pass through a defender's legs into the high slot, and Hansen one-time tapped it into the far corner of the goal. The only other action in the second period was a 5 minute major on UAA's Chris Crowell for a check from behind on Minnesota's Justin Holl at 17:34 of the period. The Gophers could not convert on the power play before the period expired, so the team went into the second intermission up 4-1.
It seemed like Minnesota took their collective feet off the gas in the third period, but they still outshot the Seawolves 17-8 and outscored UAA 1-0 in the period. The Gophers took a couple early penalties in the period and gave Anchorage a chance to get back into the game, but the oft-maligned Minnesota penalty kill stiffened and did not allow a goal. Just past the halfway point of the period, Minnesota's Aaron Ness got off the schnide and scored his first goal of the season, putting the Gophers up 5-1. Gopher goalie Kent Patterson shut down UAA the rest of the game, and Minnesota skated away with an important victory.
Gopher Player of the Game: Kent Patterson
Although the Gophers scored plenty of goals in this game, it was the steady play of the Minnesota goaltender that allowed the Maroon and Gold to claim an easy victory Friday night. Anchorage had plenty of decent scoring chances, but Patterson turned nearly all of them away. The junior netminder will be the Gophers' most important player the rest of the way, and if the team is going to make the NCAA tournament it will need to be on Patterson's broad shoulders. Patterson's 28 saves on 29 shots gives him the Player of the Game honors.
The Gophers look to continue rolling tonight against the same Alaska-Anchorage team tonight. At this point they need every win they can get, so another win over a beatable team is a must for this Gopher squad. If the Gophers can play another solid 60 minute game they should have a good chance of getting two big points.
I'll see you at the rink!