Minnesota Gopher Hockey Beats Denver 5-1

Minnesota rebounded from a bad loss Friday night with a great effort and win on Saturday. The Gophers are tied for second in the WCHA with two games to go as they also got some help from Michigan Tech, who shocked St Cloud, and Bemidji State, who tied North Dakota.

They say crazier things have happened, and Saturday night in the WCHA boy did they. And with the final weekend looming, the craziness may just be starting. It's what makes being a sports fan so fun and so maddening all at the same time.

Friday was maddening: Gophers in a listless effort fall 2-0 to Denver, their 9th loss in their past 10 against the "Boone-eers". St Cloud and UND had also won, dropping the Gophers to third and suddenly not only did their MacNaughton Cup chances seem all but lost, but now a top 3 seed was in jeopardy. I mean, with the way the Gophs' had played, could they rally for a win Saturday night? And even if they did, no way was Tech going to upset St Cloud or Bemidji stop North Dakota from picking up two more points, right?

Except it did. All of it. Per Nate Wells, Don Lucia toyed with the idea of breaking up Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, but just before warmups decided to make some less drastic changes, putting Christian Isackson on the top line, captain Zach Budish on the 2nd, and Nate Condon to the third. He also sat freshman Brady Skjei in favor of Jake Parenteau, and all the changes seem to work, as the Gophers won 5-1, and outshot DU 43-32. That "other" top line of Budish back with Erik Haula and Sam Warning ended up being the change that really worked, as those three combined for nine points with El Capitan leading the way with two goals and two assists (including an empty netter), leading scorer Haula picked up 3 assists, and Sam Warning had a goal and an assist.

It wasn't looking great early as DU scored the first and only goal in the opening period on the power play. Budish answered midway through the 2nd and the period ended tied at 1 despite the Gophers outshooting Denver 33-23 and mostly outplaying them. A Bjugstad power play goal on a one-timer from "his office" off the left post finally broke the tie and burst the dam. Justin Holl scored a nice goal to make it 3-1 then Warning notched a beauty a minute later to put it away. Does anybody in the WCHA score prettier goals than Warning? That kid has such sweet, sweet hands, and he showed it yet again on this one, breaking in alone and making THREE moves (fake shot, backhand, forehand) before going backhand again and roofing one top shelf over an outstretched Sam Brittain. Oh yeah, there was that too- after pitching a shutout the previous night DU decided not to play Juho Olkinuora again but instead went to Brittain. As a Pioneer fan I'd be questioning that move, but as a Gopher fan I'd like to thank Denver for it.

But that's not the only thing Gopher fans should be thankful for. Not only did the Gophers bounce back in a big way, but Tech pulled off the impossible by shocking St Cloud in their own building 5-1. I don't know what got into Tech or what didn't get into SCSU, and I don't care. Ditto Bemidji somehow pulling off a 2-2 tie with UND. It was completely unexpected and completely awesome, and it sets up a wild final weekend in the final season of the WCHA. Here are your standings with two games to go, courtesy of WCHA.com...

2012-2013 WCHA STANDINGS
WCHA Games
GP
W
L
T
Pts
GF
GA
1
St. Cloud State
26
17
8
1
35
88
61
2
Minnesota
26
14
7
5
33
85
61
North Dakota
26
13
6
7
33
88
66
4
Minnesota State
26
15
10
1
31
85
63
Wisconsin
26
12
7
7
31
64
58
6
Nebraska Omaha
26
14
10
2
30
88
80
7
Denver
26
12
9
5
29
79
79
8
Colorado College
26
10
12
4
24
84
93
9
Minnesota Duluth
26
8
13
5
21
64
79
10
Michigan Tech
26
7
15
4
18
70
88
11
Bemidji State
26
5
14
7
17
54
78
12
Alaska Anchorage
26
2
18
6
10
50
93

...and the matchups for the final weekend are Minnesota @ Bemidji, St Cloud @ Wisconsin, UND @ Mankato, UNO & Duluth, CC @ Tech, and UAA @ Denver. Because things are so tightly packed, there's a LOT of different scenarios that can play out, and believe it or not St Cloud is the only school who's clinched home ice in the playoffs. Looking at the schedules, SCSU is still in the driver's seat being two points up, but facing a suddenly surging Sconnie club that just swept UNO looks more daunting than it did earlier in the week when the BADgers lost to Penn State.

It would be a great time for Minnesota to get just their second conference sweep of the year, and the four points would at worst guarantee a top three finish. As Gopher fans, we'll definitely be cheering for Mankato to beat UND, and as much as it kills me to say it...we have to cheer for Wisconsin. Just this once though, I promise. If the Gophers can put together two efforts against BSU like they showed Saturday night against DU, they should finish top 3 and who knows, maybe even defend their MacNaughton Cup as regular season conference champs. Crazier things have happened- like they did this past weekend.

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