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Minnesota Gopher Hockey one win away from the MacNaughton Cup and WCHA playoffs top seed

Well? We hoped for a strong showing this weekend at the always tough CenturyLink Center in Omaha against Dean Blais' UNO squad, and boy did we get it. It wasn't always pretty, but it was definitely exciting as the Gophers pulled off a sweep of the Mavericks. The Gophers played well on a Friday night for the third time in four tries, which is a lot better than they had been doing in conference play the past few months- and years. They scored early Friday night thanks to Sam Warning, and held a 1-zip lead after one. The Mavs rallied with two in the second, including a rare shorty that the Gophs' just don't usually give up.

That set us up for the usual Friday let down in the third right? Nope, they got the tying goal from-who else?- Nick Bjugstad, and then saved the heroics for overtime. Barely two minutes into the extra period, defenseman Jake Parenteau got a shot off from the left point that missed wide, but Nate Condon got it back to him and he fired again on a shot that looked like it was fired out of a cannon! BOOM! He wired it top-shelf and sent the Gophers into pandamonium. Aside from allowing the shorthanded goal, the Gophs played pretty well, outshooting UNO 32-24 in the contest.

Saturday night we finally had a Kyle Rau goal sighting not once but twice! Rau had struggled a bit putting the puck in the net since his return from the World Juniors, but he scored two beauties on the power play- both on feeds from Erik Haula-, including what would eventually be the game winner. Despite being outshot 29-19, AND giving up their second short-handed goal of the series that cut their lead in the third period to 3-2, Minnesota hung on for a YUGE sweep of UNO.

The win kept them two points ahead of UMD for first place in the WCHA with just two games to play. Because of their sweep of Duluth back in October, Minnesota holds the tie-breaker. Per Roman, that means with just one win this weekend against Bucky the Gophers are guaranteed at least a share of the regular season crown, and would receive the #1 seed in the conference tournament. A three-point weekend, or just one Gopher win against Sconnie and one Bulldog loss to St Cloud, means the Gophers would claim the MacNaughton Cup for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Their opponent would be Alaska-Anchorage, the same school that shocked them on home ice a year ago. Remember that? Yeah I try not to either.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The rivalry with the Badgers is always fierce and despite their poor record this season (currently sitting 9th in the WCHA) they always play well against Minnesota, and you know they'd love nothing more than to ruin Minnesota's shot a regular season conference crown. But the Badgers have to come to Mariucci, and UMD has to travel to St Cloud (which is another tough place to play) so it shapes up about as well as you could hope for the Gophers. Now all they have to do is go out and take care of business. Cheer hard for the Gopehrs, and, just this once, St Cloud, and let's hope this time next we're talking about the Gophers as conference champs, and preparations for payback against UAA. All it'll take is just one win against Bucky this weekend. Go Gophers!