In what USCHO described as a "tough" weekend, our Gophers pulled out a tie against a hot (apparently) Colgate team and a dominating win over RPI.
Due to the Don's (hereafter to be known in my posts as El Padrino) expected absence due to the World Junior Championships, Gopher hockey fans were forced to endure a season's worth of hockey-less weekends in December. That purgatory finally ended last Friday night when the Pride on Ice faced off against Colgate. El Padrino's decision to pause the season turned out to be a good one, as the Gophers are clearly better with Hudson Fasching and Brady Skjei on the ice.
I won't spend any time reviewing the Ferris State/RPI contest here, as I did not watch it. I can only assume that it looked something like this: Ferris State won 6-2. Then things got interesting.
The Gophers came out swinging in the first ten minutes of the game. I remarked to a fellow observer (via text) that Colgate was going to have to start moving their feet if they wanted to keep this one close. The Gophers mustered thirteen shots in the first period, but couldn't solve the riddle of 'Gates freshman goaltender Huck Finn. Or maybe it's Charlie. I'm not the first person to have never heard of him before this weekend. That may sound harsh, but since he cemented himself as Colgate's starting goaltender, so I doubt he cares what I know of him.
The good vibes I carried out of the first period continued in the second Michael Brodzinski started the scoring less than three minutes in. At this point, with a decided advantage in shots, I sent my customary "FLOODGATES" text to my viewing partner. Unfortunately, Colgate scored the next two goals in that period, and they generally out-hustled the Gophers. I can tell you with certainty that the Gopher's lethargic and sloppy play had me frustrated. My once lengthy texts had devolved into one-word profanities and acronyms for profanities. I stopped the DVR recording the game so that it could focus instead on a "Shark Tank" rerun. Things had gotten ugly in my basement.
Through the whole game, the ineffective power play added to my frustration. The Gopher's special teams troubles have been well documented, so I won't rehash them to much further. What the play seems to lack the most is a cannon named Bjugstad sitting on the left faceoff dot. Luckily, Travis Boyd would step into that role in the third period and tie the game. That tie would hold through rest of time that mattered, despite what the headlines would say.
The game was ugly. But I'm happy that an ugly, sloppy, lethargic game (with two of the best young American skaters and El Padrino out of action) still ended in a tie. The Gophers threw 38 shots on Huckleberry, but didn't do a good job of cleaning of some of the massive rebounds he gave up. Again, that comes down to hustle (and luck, to a smaller extent).
Editorial: The USCHO headline for this game reads "Colgate downs top-ranked Minnesota in a shootout at Mariucci Classic." This might be the most over-blown headline I've read on USCHO. Yes, Colgate won the MEANINGLESS shootout. Rah. Shootouts are stupid and this game ended in a tie.
Pulling a Homer Simpson
As usual, I had no idea what to buy for my parents for their Christmas gift. Looking for inspiration, I turned to an old episode of "The Simpsons." Specifically, I decided to buy them something I would enjoy, which ended up being tickets to the Saturday session of the classic.
We arrived a few minutes late to the Ferris State v. Colgate game due to some sort of danceline, cheer, spirit squad thing happening at Williams Arena. I deftly guided us to the 5th St. tailgate lot, but there were a bunch of Sconi buses clogging up 4th street that delayed our arrival. The traffic was bad but the smell was worse.
Ferris State V. Colgate
My dad and I came in to this game with high hopes for evaluating Ferris State. His many hockey responsibilities made this actually somewhat important. However, I took a poll of all thirteen of us in attendance at this game, and we unanimously agreed that it was utterly unwatchable.
I'm going to write this next sentence just as carefully as I can so that I don't over-state it: Ferris State is hands-down, honest to Jobu, no exaggeration here, the worst team ever to achieve the number 2 ranking in the history of USCHO. Coming into Saturday, they were on some sort of rain-man-like unbeaten streak of thirteen or so games. This fact alone was apparently enough to convince NINE USCHO voters to choose them as the #1 team in the nation. Strength of Schedule matters precisely squat to about 15 USCHO voters (consistently), so this isn't a big surprise. The Ketchup and Mustard Dog's SOS is in the bottom half of the country. SCSU also received a number one vote despite their SOS being outside the top 20.
Seriously USCHO, SOS is a thing, and honestly, the KRACH SOS is the only way you could objectively compare college hockey records. Get on board the math train. Geeks rule the world.
Back to Ferris State. They played a horrible, horrible game. They cared so little that they were barely present in the last two periods. It's clear that they've only played two games against decent competition this year. The rest of their schedule has been crap, and will continue to be crap for the rest of the year. They're bad. My dad came away with the understanding that Minnesota State- Mankato can, and should beat them.
Also, their uniforms look like someone poured a gallon of ketchup and mustard into their equipment bags.
Gophers v. Resna... Rensaleer... Rensala... RPI
Knowing that RPI was handled easily by Ferris State, and now knowing that Ferris State is an extremely overrated team. I came into the evening contest expecting a blowout.
The Gophers again came out of the gate fast, peppering RPI goaltender Scott Diebold with 15 shots in the first period. Frustration began to set in as the Gophers were unable to convert those shots into goals. I could feel the tension growing in Mariucci. That tension boiled over when RPI scored the first goal of the game on a shorthanded, odd-man rush (with a decidedly lucky bounce [that's hockey]).
Thankfully, Conner Reilly tipped-in a shot from the point with less than a minute to go in the period to tie up the game. At that point, all of the tension in the arena disappeared, and the rest of the game flowed pretty well. I was enjoying a few Gopher fans near the glass heckling a woman wearing an RPI jersey by shouting "scoreboard" at her repeatedly (the game was tied) when Travis Boyd scored just 21 seconds into the second period (breaking said tie). The Gopher faithful were now jumping up and down in the row, pointing at the RPI fan, and shouting "SCOREBOARD! SCOREBOARD!" The timing of the goal was pretty epic.
From that point, the ice tilted towards the RPI net. Rau and Kloos would score in the second, extending the lead to 4-1. Shots after two periods were 36-13 in favor of the Gophers.
RPI would score in the third to bring the game within two goals, and then controversy would hit. With 9:10 remaining, RPI's Ryan Haggerty scored immediately off of a faceoff in the Gopher's zone. The out-of-zone official immediately and emphatically waived off the goal and called RPI defenseman Guy Leboeuf for interference off the draw. That play is a point of emphasis for officials this year, and having just reviewed the replay on BTN2Go, I have to say that it's a textbook call. The only error the official makes is putting the wrong RPI player in the box. I can forgive this because the official had no view of the offender's number as he made the call.
RPI Coach Seth Appert made the classic Johnny Cochran Wookie Defense in postgame interviews, taking the player number mishap as evidence that no infraction had occurred. "Chewbacca was a wookie. It doesn't make sense. You must acquit OJ." I'm sure that since he's had a chance to review the game film, he would concede that the call was justified. In fact, I'm sure he trained Lebouef to interfere exactly like he did, because this call gets missed all the time.
Kyle Rau would score on the ensuing power play, making the score 5-2.
At this point, the referees allowed RPI Captain Matt Tinordi to go on a mini rampage; first driving Ben Marshal into the net well after the whistle, and then targeting the head of Jake Bischoff behind the net well after the puck was gone. Both incidents occurred during the shift immediately after Rau's second goal. Matt Tinordi, if you read this blog, I'm calling you out. Lose with some dignity.
RPI would pull their goalie with about three minutes left. I still can't quite wrap my head around pulling your goalie down three goals with three minutes to go in a game. Unfortunately for Coach Appert, RPI came out with zero intensity with the sixth attacker and Seth Ambroz scored an easy empty-netter with 2.5 minutes to go. Appert wisely placed his goalie back in the net.
The Gophers looked like their usual selves Saturday. A highly skilled team that has a few breakdowns each game. I attribute most of these to the youth and inexperience of the lineup.
Overall, the Mariucci Classic served the Gophers well in getting the rust off after the long WJC layoff.
The Gopher's head to Happy Valley (Hockey Valley is not a thing. Stop trying to make it a thing), where they should sweep the Nittany Lions. I think anything less than six points is a disappointment this weekend.
I would say the same about the next two games at home against Ohio State. However, one of those games is being played outdoors at the Bank in Jobu-only-knows what kind of weather. In an outdoor game on a crappy surface in unknown elements, the more skilled team always suffers. I said that last year when the Gophers lost to Sconi outside and cost themselves the McNaughton Cup outright (which I predicted after that dumb game). I'm going to say it again this year: don't play conference games outdoors. You're leveling the playing field for the less-skilled team. It's stupid. I hate it.
Still, the Gophers should sweep that series as well, and then it's time for some fun because the next four weeks of the schedule is pretty awesome.