Well, At Least We're The No. 1 Seed: Gophs Lose 4-1
The Gophers secured at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup on Friday night thanks to Minnesota Duluth’s 2-1 loss to the Huskies in St. Cloud. Because of the Gophers sweep in Duluth against the Bulldogs in October, Minnesota will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming WCHA Tournament and play host to Alaska Anchorage – the team that upset the Maroon and Gold a season ago in the first round of the tourney – next weekend, and have a chance to claim sole possession of the Cup on Saturday night.
Also, the Gophers lost 4-1 to an average-at-best Wisconsin team and looked as bad and lifeless as they have all year.
One game does not make a season, but Friday’s effort – or lack thereof – in a game against one of the team’s top rivals with a chance to outright clinch the regular season title is a little disconcerting. However, they were without their top skater, sophomore Nick Bjugstad, but head coach Don Lucia said after the game that “there’s a good chance” he'll play in the Saturday rematch. Still though, that’s not an excuse for what was on display in front of a sellout crowd this evening.
“They were the better team tonight in basically every phase of the game,” Lucia said. “It’s disappointing, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. Just have to … get ready to play tomorrow. They deserved to win the game without question.”
There’s really not much to say other than the Gophers had only a handful of decent scoring chances, but for the most part they couldn’t get anything going in the offensive zone, which proved to be their downfall on this night. On paper the Gophers had the special teams edge coming into the night but gave up two power play goals and scored none of their own. They were out-goaltended, outworked, out-everythinged.
The first period was largely uneventful until a late icing call on the Gophers gave UW head coach Mike Eaves a chance to get his top line out on the ice. Gopher center Travis Boyd did a nice job not losing the draw clean to UW’s Mark Zengerle, who ended up with a four point night, but Kyle Rau fanned on a chance to clear the puck, which allowed Zengerle to fire a low shot on goal that Kent Patterson couldn’t handle cleanly, and former Burnsville star Tyler Barnes knocked home the rebound to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Wisconsin would double its lead thanks to another failed clearing attempt, with this one coming off the stick of Ben Marshall, who returned to the lineup after missing last weekend’s games with an injury. Marshall tried to clear the puck off the glass but didn’t get much on it, which allowed junior forward Ryan Little to pick up the loose puck and beat a screened Patterson, who had Barnes right in front of him.
After Zach Budish was whistled for a very questionable boarding call in the offensive zone, the Badgers took to the power play for the first time on the night and wasted no time in extending their lead to 3-0. Patterson thought he corralled the Jake McCabe shot from the left point, but the puck was loose in the crease and sophomore Michael Mersch scored his 14th goal of the season to essentially put the dagger in the Gophers on this night.
Things would really go off the rails after another offensive zone penalty, as Zengerle scored as pretty of a goal as you’ll see. The sophomore cut down the middle of the ice and absolutely danced Seth Helgeson, and then beat Patterson five-hole to make it 4-0 and, in the process, score UW’s second power play goal of the night.
Patterson was yanked in favor of sophomore Michael Shibrowski to start the third, making it the first minutes that anyone other than Patterson tended the Gopher goal since the team’s 3-2 loss at Minnesota State on Dec. 3, 2010. You couldn’t really blame Patterson for three of the four goals, so this pulling can be attributed much more to the skaters in front of him than Patterson’s play itself.
Nico Sacchetti scored his third goal of the season late on a tip in front of UW goalie Joel Rumpel, who was solid when he had to be early but was never really pressed hard by Minnesota. Jake Parenteau got the lone helper.
“It was sloppy, a lack of energy … I don’t know if guys were nervous or what it was but we definitely didn’t execute. Give Wisconsin credit, when they had their opportunities they put them in the back of the net,” said Jake Hansen, who will be among the seven seniors honored on Saturday night before the game.
Nationally the team is now tied for 7th in the PairWise as of 11 p.m. Friday. It’s extremely unlikely that the Gophers can nab a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, so they need to hopefully stay in the 5-8 range in order to get a No. 2 seed and have the last change for their first round game, which will be at the Xcel Energy Center as hosts of the West Regional should they make the dance (at this point they’d need to lose out in order to miss, and even then they might still hang on to a spot).
Needless to say, there needs to be a better effort on Saturday with the playoffs starting next weekend.
“We don’t want to end the season on a losing note. We have one goal tomorrow and that’s the two points,” Hansen said.
The Saturday rematch will get underway at 7 p.m.