Monday, October 24, 2011

Minnesota Blows Two-Goal Lead, Loses 5-4 to Vermont Catamounts

Prior to Sunday, the Minnesota Gophers had not given up a goal at home and had not lost a game anywhere. The Vermont Catamounts had only played one regular season game, a 6-0 drubbing on Friday at the hands of the aforementioned Gophers.

A day off must have done the Catamounts good.

After a full day to rest up on Saturday, Vermont (aided by a four-goal second period) stunned the Gophers by coming back from an early 3-1 deficit to hand Minnesota their first loss of the season.

Sunday 10/23/11: 5-4 Gopher Loss

Minnesota (5-1-0 Overall, 2-0-0 WCHA) came into Sunday's contest riding high - as mentioned above, the Gophers had won five games to begin the season, having scored 31 goals and having allowed only eight in those contests. The Gophers got off to a good start in the first period of Sunday's game, scoring the first goal of the match at 12:18 on a long shot by Justin Holl from the blue line. Minnesota dominated the period, outshooting Vermont 15-7 in the period despite being shorthanded for six of the frame's 20 minutes.

Although the penalties did not end up hurting the Gophers in the first period, they would become a refrain that would eventually take its toll on the Maroon and Gold. The Gophers' home shutout streak ended at 204:07 (4:07 of the second) as Vermont's Connor Brickley tied the game at one goal each. However, just 12 seconds later Jake Hansen tipped Erik Haula's pass into the top corner of the Vermont net to give the Gophers back their lead at 2-1. Just over a minute later, Nate Schmidt's slapshot from the blue line found its way through traffic and past Vermont goalie Rob Madore to get the Gophers a two goal lead. From there, though, the wheels fell off for Minnesota. Seth Ambroz took two penalties on the same play at 6:05 of the period, giving Vermont four minutes of power play time. The Gophers killed those penalties without allowing so much as one Vermont shot on goal, but somehow Vermont kept the momentum. Justin Holl took a holding penalty at 13:14, and just before their power play expired Connor Brickley scored his second goal of the game and second of the season to bring Vermont within one. Chris McCarthy scored from the low slot at 15:39, and on another power play Sebastian Stalberg scored at 18:07. All of a sudden, a two-goal second period lead had turned into a one-goal deficit for the Gophers as they headed into the locker room after the period expired.

The third period opened with a Gopher power play at 4:27. Despite a ton of quality scoring chances, Catamount goalie Rob Madore shut the door on Minnesota and prevented a tying goal from being scored. Just 40 seconds after the Gopher power play expired at 7:07, Sebastian Stalberg fired a rocket one-time wrist shot from the middle of the slot to beat the Gophers' Kent Patterson and give Vermont a 5-3 lead. Minnesota's Kyle Rau would score on the power play at 10:07 to get the Gophers back within one goal at 5-4, but Rob Madore would continue to stone the Gophers down the stretch as Vermont found a way to steal a victory from Minnesota on the wekeend.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Erik Haula: 0-2-2

Haula assisted on two goals on Sunday, and is now tied for the lead in the national points race with 5-9-14 in just six games. Haula centers the Gophers' second line, and his ability to be a puck-distributing pivot will be vital in getting his linemates (Jake Hansen and Sam Warning) involved in Minnesota's potent scoring attack.

2. Kyle Rau: 1-1-2

Rau scored the Gophers' fourth goal of the game at 10:07 of the third period. It got the Minnesota back in contention by narrowing the Catamount lead to one. Although the Gophers could not quite complete the comeback, Rau has often been the spark plug that jump starts this offense. I'm excited to see what he can do once the games start to get a little more intense.

1. Nate Schmidt: 1-2-3

Schmidt has been the Gophers' only consistently good defenseman the entire season, and he's racked up one goal and eight assists for nine total points in just six games to lead the nation's defensemen in scoring. Schmidt has a cannon of a shot and is great at running the power play. His presence in the Gopher lineup is a key to the season for Minnesota, and his first goal of the year earned him the Gophers' number one star on Sunday.

Coming Up Next: Gophers @ UAA

The Gophers travel up to Anchorage to face the Seawolves (3-2-1 Overall, 0-2-0 WCHA). The Seawolves opened up their WCHA season last weekend by being swept at Nebraska-Omaha. This series should be one of revenge for the Gophers, as Anchorage beat Minnesota twice to end their season last year in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Anchorage is much improved over the last several seasons, and any team traveling to Alaska has a tough battle from the get go, but I would expect three Gopher points out of next weekend.

Next Blog Post: Week 3 WCHA Power Rankings and Tiers

The next time you see this blog, I'll have an updated WCHA Power Rankings and Tiers for you! North Dakota swept at Wisconsin, St. Cloud State with a win and a tie against New Hampshire and Bemidji State sweeping Michigan Tech are sure to shake up the rankings! Stay tuned.

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