I really thought the men’s hockey team was finally going to pull it off this weekend. I was absolutely sure they were going to grab their first WCHA sweep against Colorado College. Honestly, who wouldn’t think that after a 4-2 win on Friday, and a three-goal lead going into the second period on Saturday, the Gophers would come home with four points?
Let me just repeat that, in case you didn’t catch the game Saturday night at World Arena in Colorado Springs: The Gophers had a three-goal lead going into the second period. Subsequently, after a barrage of mental breakdowns and all-around bad play, the Tigers put one past Adam Wilcox in the second, then scored two goals in about two minutes, notched a fourth with just 24 seconds of play left and skated on their merry way to a tie.
Luckily, there were plenty of good things to acknowledge over the weekend, despite such a shocking let-down on Sunday. Take Friday for instance. Tom Serratore played great in his return to World Arena. The Colorado Springs native has played a lot of hockey there so it was nice to see him get the game-winner. I like this kid an awful lot; he’s a real grinder and has scored one in each of the last four weekend series. Sam Warning also had a big game Friday night, scoring the other two goals – his first two of the season. Friday was his third game back after being injured for nine games and scoreless for more. The penalty- kill looked good; Minnesota survived all four of the Tiger’s power-play chances and didn’t do so bad on their own with the man advantage. Although on paper the Gophers didn’t look great on the power-play, Warning’s second goal came just a few seconds after the man-advantage ended.
There were only a couple of instances that got a little dangerous. Most notably when Colorado College scored both their goals as a result of the Minnesota squad seemingly having sudden amnesia – everyone was scrambling around looking like they forgot what position they were supposed to be playing. In the end the Tigers pulled their net-minder and Zach Budish dumped one into the empty net to end it at 4-2. Ben Marshall, Mike Reilly, Nate Schmidt and Nate Condon all had an assist on Friday while Erik Haula had two.
Sunday night started out looking like a continuation of the Gopher’s dominating play on Friday. Serratore roared back into the arena with the first goal of the night followed by Haula with a power-play goal. Seth Ambroz would go on to close out the period with goal number three, with assists from Schmidt and Travis Boyd. Although Minnesota dominated first-period play, the shots ended up being 11-11 at the end of the first.
The second period is where things started to take a turn for the worse. Though the shots were 10-6 in favor of Minnesota, both teams notched a goal. The third period was when disaster hit. By way of the classic defensive breakdowns we’ve become all too familiar with this season, the Tigers scored three unanswered goals. The biggest “what the hell is going on moment” was a short-handed goal when Ben Marshall gave up an odd-man rush after failing to capitalize on a one-timer. Minnesota had some pretty awful penalties, which obviously doesn’t help matters, along with an amateur-looking break-out. I found myself wondering at times if this team even knows how to cycle.
At this point I’m not surprised that Minnesota blew a lead; I don’t think anyone who’s been closely following the team this season could be. I am surprised that they blew a three-goal lead after playing like champs in the first. I’d like to know what went on in the Gopher locker room between periods. Maybe the boys were so busy chatting it up that they forgot they still had to play two periods of hockey. Maybe they’re stressed about finals week. Maybe Don Lucia couldn’t find the locker room and never got a word in. The coach told Fox Sports North after the game that he was “disappointed.” Is that the word that best describes how you feel about giving up a three-goal lead, coach? I’m pretty confident that a lot of teams would be skating something along the lines of a no-puck, weighted-vest punishment-practice after coming apart that bad, but of course that’s just my opinion. Lucky for the boys it’s break time as they head into finals week (or perhaps, unlucky depending on classes) and they’ll be exempt from such a thing for a bit. The Gophers will return to Mariucci Arena on December 29 for the Mariucci Classic before they start the toughest part of their schedule. Here’s to hoping the winter break serves everyone well and we can get back to winning.