Shouldn't come as much surprise that the Gophers and Mavericks each won a game this weekend while scoring five and giving up five. Since Dean Blais has been running the show in Omaha UNO ALWAYS seems to play the Gophers tough, especially in Minneapolis, and this was no exception. UNO opened the scoring in Friday night's game less than five minutes in, the Gophers countered a minute later with Zach Budish's fourth goal of the season and Christian Isackson notched his second of the year just before the close of the year. 2-1 Gophers after one, and they were on their way, right?
Wrong. UNO stepped up their game scoring one in the second and the third, outplaying Minnesota in just about every facet the rest of the way, and despite a rally in the third, UNO hung on for a 3-2 win. The Gophers were outshot for just the second time all season, managing just four shots in the second and seven in the third, and they not only gave up a rare short handed goal, but also failed to score on the power play.
Head coach Don Lucia wasn't impressed with the effort, and made some changes for Saturday night by dropping Isackson from the first to the fourth line, and bumping Nate Condon up to the top line, and benching the usually steady Mark Alt. He also switched up his defensive pairings, matching Jake Parenteau with Ben Marshall and Seth Helgeson with Mike Reilly. It seemed to work as Minnesota scored the game's first three goals, including power play tallies from Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad to lead 3-0 with almost two periods complete. But in true Blais fashion the Mavericks weren't done, getting a goal just before the end of the second, and it was a great period of back and forth hockey in the third.
Blais gambled by pulling his goalie with more than three minutes left, and was rewarded with Johnnie Searfoss' fourth goal of the season to cut the lead to 3-2. Minnesota hit a goal post on an empty net that could have sealed it, but had to fight to the end to hang on. Both goalies were good all weekend, as Adam Wilcox continued to play every minute for the U while John Faulkner, who had been splitting games with Anthony Stolarz (a 2nd round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers), played so well Friday night he got the start again Saturday night, and while he didn't get the win, had it not been for him the Gophers would have been up more than 1-0 after the first, as he turned away 15 of 16 first period shots.
UNO is going to be a factor in the WCHA title race, and while they sit just one point behind Minnesota in the standings in third place with 11 points, they still have two games in hand (as do two teams right behind them in CC and UND). The Gophers are now tied for second with 12 points with St Cloud, three points back of Denver. Of all teams, Wisconsin helped the Gophers as they took three points from the Pioneers with a win and a tie in Denver to keep Minnesota within striking distance.
Things don't get any easier next weekend as Minnesota plays their last WCHA series before the Christmas break on the road in Colorado Springs against CC, who are coming off a split with the Fighting Whioux.