Gophers Crush UAA with Mammoth Third Period
Sweep Sends Gophers to St. Paul for the First Time in Three Years
“We needed this” said Coach Lucia of the Gopher rally. “We got punched in the nose a little bit tonight” he explained. “We hadn’t scored a lot and that [rally] was important.”
When the dust settled on Saturday night, the Gophers blew away Anchorage with six unanswered goals in a 7 – 3 win, sweeping the Seawolves and punching their ticket to St. Paul next weekend. It was not as easy as the score would indicate as there were several momentum shifts, but Goldy responded to a somewhat lackluster first 30 minutes and avoided a Sunday night winner take all matchup.
The first period was a bit of a reversal from Friday night. The Gophers were the beneficiary of a few early power plays and were skating a bit better than in Game 1. Jake Hansen got the Gophers on the board with a tip of a Ben Marshall shot and the Gophers had the early lead but it was a fairly even game through twenty minutes.
Anchorage was certainly playing more aggressively in their transition game although they were very much their old selves stacking four and five guys across the blue line and forcing a dump & chase game by Goldy.
And as the second period started, the Gophers began to pay for not putting one more in the net on their successive power plays in the first period. First, the Seawolves tied the game just 35 seconds into the period after Ben Marshall lost containment on Matt Bailey, who put a rebound in past Kent Patterson.
Then, nearing the halfway point of the period, Seth Helgason and Seth Ambroz took penalties on the same scrum near the Gopher bench, and Anchorage had two full minutes of five on three power play time. A minute later, it was 3 - 1 Seawolves.
“I thought we did the right things” said a somewhat dejected but proud Seawolf head coach Dave Shyiak. “When you have a 3 – 1 lead…I thought we were smelling blood a little bit.”
Then the oddest thing happened. The Seawolves started playing pond hockey.
“We had them on their heels” said Shyiak. “We wanted to get that 4th goal, I thought we had them pinned down.”
Certainly a good, aggressive thought, but probably should have stuck to the game plan.
At this point the crowd was a bit fired up from the double penalty call, and the Gophers grabbed that energy and finally put their working hats on. The team was visibly playing different and instantly started skating circles around the Seawolves.
First, the UAA defense pinched up in the neutral zone and after a turnover, Kyle Rau hit a barreling Zach Budish, who pounded it home to cut the lead in half.
“Bjugie made a nice chip up the boards to Rau, he fired it to me in front and I pretty much had a wide open net” said Budish after the game.
Then after successive Anchorage penalties, the Gophers finally cashed in. After going scoreless in their first six opportunities on the night, they scored their biggest in the biggest moment. Just moments after a clown-car type of puck bounce in front of the Gopher net after a UAA dump-in almost put them back down by two, the Gophers worked it up ice, and Nick Bjugstad slammed home the tying goal, finishing off a nice passing play from Erik Haula and Nate Schmidt.
“I thought the third goal for them – the power play goal – the late one there, was the key” said Shyiak. “We took some unnecessary penalties and…it just kills you.”
The third period started as expected as UAA went back to their mega-defensive mode. But a mistake by the UAA defense at their blue line was like a deep sea tsunami and that tidal wave was on its way.
First, Kyle Rau took the puck at center ice in a one on two situation. The right defender crossed his partner’s path to go for a big hit on Rau. Rau avoided it and passed it over to a streaking Haula, who deked and dropped it five-hole on Chris Kamal. The building exploded at the 4 – 3 lead and turn of events but it wasn’t without some controversy.
“I was upset about the fourth goal” said Shyiak, clearly not happy with the officiating all weekend. “They had a bad line change” he started. “Haula hops out; they hadn’t made a change by about fifteen feet.” He had a good point as the player he was coming on for was Bjugstad, who was late because he had just been speared in the neck area with no call.
“But you can’t rewind it” he concluded.
UAA couldn’t recover from that goal because 61 seconds later the Gophers were up 6 – 3 after Haula and Helgason combined for back-to-back tallies.
“It’s going well” said an absolute emotionless and stoic Erik Haula of his huge weekend. “You got to have a player step up and this weekend it was me. Hopefully we get more guys next week get on the scoreboard” he said, with the steely stare of a 1970’s Soviet Red Army player.
Sam Warning finished the scoring with a late goal, Coach Lucia put in practice goalie Jake Kremer for the last 43.2 seconds, and the Battle Hymn was blaring. It’s good to be back at the Final Five. Not lost is the fact that they’ll play two straight weekends at the ‘X’ as their NCAA berth is locked in as well.
“Our kids need to play in that environment” he said of what will be a charged up ‘X’ next weekend. “I think the guys will look forward to it.”
We all will. The Gophers will play an unknown opponent – depending on who wins the rubber game of the Denver – Wisconsin matchup tomorrow, things possibly will be re-seeded for the first games on Thursday. Regardless, the Gophers will play on Friday night at 7PM on FSN.