Gophers Drop Pivotal Opener

Steve Racine didn't need to do much to get the win.

Alex Kile scores his second of 3 goals on the evening.
Alex Kile scores his second of 3 goals on the evening. (Photo by Craig Cotner)
Big Ten conference lead at stake, final stretch before the playoffs, and home ice on a Thursday night – most would have figured this would have brought out the best effort from the Gophers. While the team did a nice job in holding down the CCM line for a large portion of the game, we got a mostly lifeless offensive effort in a 6 – 2 loss as Michigan picks up their first win in Mariucci since the Big Ten conference started and re-takes the conference points lead.

Gophers had some jump to start the game but they slowly deteriorated into a stumbling lot that looked a bit disinterested. The Gopher game plan was to take the body early – and while it didn’t really slow Michigan down, it did knock them out of their lanes a bit as they had some guys open in shooting lanes but couldn’t connect with passes.

The Wolverines grabbed the lead thanks to Ryan Collins. Trying to back up, trying to stickhandle, trying to get benched – he lost the puck directly in front of Eric Schierhorn to Alex Kile of the Wolverines. Schierhorn, clearly surprised by this almost impossible turn of events, did a great job forcing Kile to an angle with a low percentage shot. But somehow Collins, who strangely made little effort to help, knocked the puck in (which bounced off of Schierhorn), while Kile celebrated like he actually had something to do with it.

Things didn’t get much better in the 2nd. Again – the squad was fairly focused on slowing down any rushes the Wolverines brought through the neutral zone, but they couldn’t possess the puck in the offensive zone for much time and got burned by Alex Kile wile on the penalty kill. Kile too easily found his way into the 4 man box and popped home a rebound to put the Gophers in a two goal hole going into the third.

The Gophers had their best push as the third period rolled through the first 8 – 10 minutes. They got some long passes connected and that loosened up the neutral zone a bit. But they couldn’t beat Steve Racine and it was just a matter of time for the CCM line as they basically put an end to the game, finally getting through on the power play. After getting nailed into the boards by Steve Johnson, JT Compher made his way to the other side of Schierhorn. After backing up and corralling the puck, he made a bullet pass through the slot to Kyle Connor, who slammed home a fairly tough-angle goal for the dagger.

The last five minutes were a flurry of goals but all in all it was totally meaningless. Part of it was Alex Kile completing a well-earned hat trick, part was a large portion of the Gophers giving up on defending, and the Gophers adding a couple themselves (after being down 6 – 0) for a 6 – 2 final.

So, the Gophers kind of continue on their pace of beating the teams they should beat but coming up short against teams in the top 15 of the Pairwise. At least for tonight, the Gophers give up the conference lead as they fall into 2nd place. They can re-take the lead tomorrow night but it appears as though they’ll have to win their final five games to be in the conversation for an at large NCAA bid. The rematch is tomorrow night at 8PM, the late game of a Big Ten doubleheader.

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