Did that happen? Did it? Minnesota won 7-3, outshot their opponent 44-34, and- get this- actually had a better power play, converting 2-4 to the visitor's 2-5. And this wasn't against Michigan Tech, this was Denver, the 4th ranked team in the country, and the conference leader in goals. Compare this to Friday night, when the Gophs outplayed Denver yet couldn't convert on the powerplay and lost 2-1. I didn't think there was any way the Gophs could play better, or Denver could play worse. Shockingly, I was wrong (I know!).
Whatever coach Don Lucia said after Friday night's game and before last night's win should be bottled, recorded and ready for redistribution for the rest of the year. Playing without captain and leading scorer Jay Barriball for the second straight night, the Gophers had their biggest scoring output of the year, chasing DU starting netminder Sam Brittain on their first shot of the second period. It was their fourth goal on 11 shots, and they'd add two more in the period to take a dominating 6-0 lead after two periods. The Pioneers rallied with three in the third, finally beating Gopher goalie Kent Patterson, who ended the night allowing just three goals on 31 shots, but it way too little way too late Patterson has been the team MVP without question, and it had to be nice for him to see his teammates giving him so much support. And last night, he got it from everyone. Seven Gopher goals from seven different Gophers. People have been begging and pleading for freshman center Nick Bjugstad to start scoring, and he finally did, potting only his third goal of the year. Fellow frosh pivot Eric Haula tallied a goal and two assists. Seniors Jacob Cepis and Mike Hoeffel had one each, defenseman Cade Fairchild nabbed first star with a goal and three assists, and perhaps most shocking of all...Patrick White scored a goal! Yeah it was definitely Minnesota's night. They didn't quit after a tough loss Friday night (inconsistency from game-to-game had been such an issue all year), and instead came out hungry, fired up, and aggressive, and they took it to one of the best teams not just in the conference, but the country.
The real question now is this the turning point in the season, or just a gigantic tease? In the past month Minnesota split with the two best teams in the conference- DU and UND- but also split with UAA (who, by the way, is falling back to earth after getting swept by North Dakota). The two wins over top ranked teams show they can skate with anyone when they're on. It shows they can not only get to the WCHA Final Five, but the NCAA tournament too. But the UAA series, as well as so many of their games over this season, shows a team that struggles to score and take advantage of opportunities. So which is it going to be? Next weekend it's off to Madison to face arch rival Wisconsin, who were just swept by UNO. Sconnie is now 1-6-1 this season against the top 4 teams in the conference, and are just three points ahead of the Gophs in 5th with 24. The Gophers likely can't get any better than passing Sconnie for 5th, but that's more than we thought they'd have a shot at before last night. If we see the kind of effort, and scoring, they put forth in this win, this is a team people can get excited about. We'll see this weekend if this is indeed the turning point, or just a glimpse of what could have been.