Pretty good Sunday for Minnesota sports. The Vikings scored some sweet revenge with a win over the Packers that got them to the playoffs, and the Minnesota Gopher hockey team finished up Sunday night with an 8-1 drubbing of defending national champ and #1 Boston College. Not sure you can really call this one payback or revenge for the beating BC laid on the Gophs in last year's Frozen Four since this doesn't knock either team out of the playoffs or give Minnesota another shot winning last year's national title. What it was, though, was a statement game for the Gophers, and one they'll be able to keep in their back pocket for rankings, NCAA tourney seeding and anything else. I'd be shocked if BC doesn't finish the regular season as one of the two or three best teams in the country, and as Gopher fans we should hope that's the case, because it'll just make this win look all the more impressive.
Now, two caveats that BC fans will use against Minnesota, one legit, one not so much: the first is they were without their best player, and one of the best forwards in the country, in Johnny Gaudreau, who is playing for Team USA in the World Juniors, AND two starting defensemen due to injury. The Gophers could counter and say they were also missing a player at the World Juniors in d-man Mike Reilly, but it's not even an argument who is more valuable to his team this year- it's Gaudreau and it's not close, especially with the incredible defensive depth the Gophers boast. The second excuse from BC fans will be about the refing, as BC was called for twice the penalities (8) as Minnesota was (4). To which I would say...did you watch the game?
After holding off a couple of fierce BC rushes early in the game, Minnesota was the aggressor the rest of the way. Almost all of the penalities called on BC, especially the early ones, were called in BC's end as they tried, and failed, to defend the Gophs'. All of those calls on the Eagles were legit, and they happened because Minnesota was controlling the play and flying through BC's zone, forcing them to either make a play, or commit a penalty to stop them. Minnesota was the better, faster, more aggressive team all night long, and that's why the penalties were so lopsided. The Gophers earned those power plays, and they earned the PP goals that came with them...well except the first one. The opener by Nick Bjugstad was not a goal. The rule states you can't push a goaltender who has covered the puck into the net, but that's exactly what happened. Nowhere on the many replays FSN showed did you see the puck come loose from under Parker Milner's pads, yet somehow the goal stood.
As if to make up for a cheapy first goal, the next seven- yes SEVEN- were more than legit. Minnesota's lethal power play defined to a "T" the phrase "clicking on all cylinders" as they scored on four of their first five power plays, including the first goal by Bjugstad. Rau wired one top shelf off a rebound, standing in his favorite place just off the right post (or goalie's left), zipping one past Milner that hit the back bar so hard it bounced back close to the blue line by the time Milner could even get a glove up. Then Bjugstad had a ridiculous goal at even strength, set up by a brilliant chip shot over the BC defender by Zach Budish. Budish got the puck in his own end on the near wall, with the defenseman playing right in front of him blocking the passing lane. Bjuggy was streaking away behind him, and since he couldn't go along the ice or even off the glass, he made a golf shot- like he was chipping one out of the bunker- over the defender and right onto the tape of Bjuggy's stick. From there Bjugstad showed why he's one of the top prospects in the world, as at 6'6 he skated in one-on-one, undressed the poor BC d-man, then made a nice deke to his backhand on Milner going shelf for his 2nd of the night. The place went berzerk, with their Gophers now up 3-0 in the first period on the #1 team in the land.
They went to the room up 3-0, then Nate Condon made it 4-0 on another power play goal midway through the second. After a five minute major was called on BC's Michael Sit for a hit to the head at the end of the second, Minnesota struck early in the third on the ensuing PP as Nate Schmidt cannoned one from the point to make it 5-0. Two minutes later Seth Ambroz scored an even strength goal right as the major penalty expired, and two minutes after that Rau buried his second of the night on a feed from Bjugy for 7-0. Right before that is when Haula was injured on a vicious slash from BC forward Kevin Hayes. Haula carried the puck behind the BC net and as he centered the puck Hayes took a chop at him and the lumber came down on his hand. Running it back on the ol' DVR you could see Haula wince immediately grabbing his wrist or hand, and skated off to the bench and did not return. Per Russo:
Lucia said he got “dinged” and would be evaluated by doctors in the next few days. He will provide an update mid-week.
Losing Haula for any stretch would be a big loss, so hopefully the injury is nothing major, but it sure didn't look good when he left. Travis Boyd, the team's current #3 center, would be a #1 or 2 center on most other teams, so he'd likely do fine jumping up to the second line if Haula has to miss any games. Still, you don't lose your top scorer and one of your best players and not miss him- just ask BC. Hopefully the prognosis is good and Haula will miss little to no time.
Per Michael Russo, Haula is now "week to week" with what only hockey teams would call "an upper body injury". Lucia told Russo that Haula is doubtful for Tuesday night's tilt with now #2 Notre Dame, and no word on whether he'll be back for the WCHA second-half opening series at home vs UAA next weekend.
After that, BC finally got on the board and Sam Warning added a "shorty" for the final goal, and Minnesota skated to an impressive 8-1 win. BC fans might blame the lack of Gaudreau and their injured defensemen and the penalties but one other big reason they lost- Gopher freshman goalie Adam Wilcox. Sorry to wait this long in the post to say it, but Wilcox had his best game as a Gopher, stopping 32 of 33 BC shots, and he was impenetrable when Minnesota needed him most. He had so many big saves, but the highlight of his night was the glove save on BC's Steven Whitney on a 2-on-1: With Minnesota up 3-0 in the second, Whitney was streaking down the right wing, held the puck long enough for the defenseman to commit to the other winger, and then let a laser go from close range that seemed destined for the back of the net. But Wilcox flashed the glove and with a little extra flair snatched it with a sweep of his arm, robbing Whitney and bringing the crowd to their feet. I've said it before, I'll say it again: I have zero worries about Minnesota's netminding with Wilcox between the pipes. Zero. Yes he's just a freshman, but he's been one of the best goalies in college hockey (maybe the best? An argument could be made) and was at his best against the best last night.
Wilcox bailed out Minnesota but the Gophers also played a pretty good defensive game, as Jake Parenteau filled in well for Reilly at the point and the group really didn't miss a beat. Overall, it was as impressive a win as the score would indicate, and one the Gophers and their fans should feel great about, no matter what BC fans may say. The team now gets a week off before #3 Notre Dame comes to town for a random Tuesday night game January 8. Let's hope between now and then we get some good news about Haula and the Gophs' will be rested and prepared for another big non-conference game at home in Mariucci. The win over BC will serve notice that Minnesota belongs in the conversation as one of the best teams in the country, and they couldn't have ended 2012 any better.