After playing two of their best games of the year against the two best teams in the country, there was worry of a let-down in this series against last-placed UAA. And Friday night, boy did we get it. That might have been Minnesota's worst effort of the year in what also might have been the ugliest game of the year, yet miraculously they managed to win. Saturday night they put to rest any worry of a repeat performance with two goals in the first and seven in all as it was back to the fireworks of recent weeks. Overall it was the best and worst and yet still the Goph's first sweep of the season in WCHA play.
If you were unfortunate enough to watch Friday night's game you could have sworn it was late 90's NHL hockey from the Jacques Lemaire trap system of clutch and grab, grind-to-a-halt hockey that tried to ruin the game. Not that you can blame UAA for this strategy, as we saw what happened Saturday night when they couldn't slow Minnesota down. Track meets, especially on the big ice at Mariucci, do not favor UAA, and Friday night they were able to clog up the neutral zone and make it seem like they were playing pond hockey in a swamp in July. It was sloppy, it was ugly, and it should have led to a Seawolves victory, but it didn't. UAA led 1-0 after 1 while outshooting the Gophs 10-6, then Minnesota woke up in the 2nd with two goals and a 10-3 shot advantage (yep, UAA had 3 shots in a period), yet Alaska Anchorage rallied in the third with two straight goals of their own to lead 3-2 with just 6 minutes left.
Then came the five minute hit-from-behind major against UAA's Tyler Currier for his hit on Minnesota captain Zach Budish that essentially won the game for the Gophers. Watching the replay there was no malicious intent from Currier as he looked to have Budish lined up for a clean hit along the wall. At the last moment- and from the looks of it not on purpose- Budish turned away Currier and he got tagged clean in the back and was knocked head first into the boards. Thankfully Zach was fine, but the referee's arm went up, Currier was sent off for five minutes and the game and was done for the night, and essentially, so were the Seawolves. Asking them to kill off five minutes against the vaunted Gopher power play was too tall of an order, and once Nick Bjugstad scored with three minutes left to tie it, you just knew the winner was coming next.
Right on cue Ben Marshall teed one up from the right wall with just under a minute to go, and the Gophers survived with a win they had no business getting. But just like the blowout Saturday night, it counted as a win just the same, two more points in the WCHA standings and two points closer to the MacNaughton Cup. I have to say that as relieved as I was that they pulled out the victory, I wondered if they'd learn from this experience at all and take UAA more seriously, or if they'd take this for granted. Well Saturday's 7-1 stomping showed they weren't going to take the Seawolves lightly again as Minnesota owned the game from start to finish. Kyle Rau led with his first career hat trick (I know, right? I would have thought he'd of had one before this too, but there you go), Nate Schmidt had four assists, and the Gopher defense was suffocating holding UAA to 13 total shots. That is not a typo- 13 shots through 3 periods: just two in the first, six in the second and five in the third. Goalie Adam Wilcox could have caught up on his homework or some sleep as he was rarely tested.
Oh by the way, thanks to the five minute major and the demolition of UAA Saturday night for a four point weekend, the Gophers have gone from sixth place in the WCHA up to third in just two games. First place UNO tied and lost to Denver, who are now in a first place tie with the Mavs with 20 points, the Gophers are now third for third with 19 points with UND, "Whioux" split their weekend series with CC. Idle St Cloud is now fifth with 18 points, and Duluth and Wisconsin, both of whom are rounding into form after rough starts (UMD swept Tech while Sconnie swept Mankato), are tied for sixth with 17 points. It's really tight in the standings, and we'd expect nothing less as teams vie for the last WCHA conference title that matters before everybody goes their separate ways.
And should probably also mention that UND is coming this weekend for the last ever regular season conference meeting between the Fighting Whioux and the Gophers. Hate week? Oh yeah, baby, Hate Week is on. Whioux Hates UND? We hate UND!