Sad Eye Gophers Exit Final Five
Stalock Makes 39 Saves in 2-1 Win
St. Paul—Thursday night’s WCHA Final Five play-in game was billed as a battle to see which Alex was greater. But, a flu bug forced Gopher Alex Kangas to the locker room after the first period and Bulldog Alex Stalock shined, making 39 saves to lead Minnesota Duluth to a 2-1 win in front of 17,611 at Xcel Energy Center.
“Getting the first goal was critical, the penalty kill was even more critical, and our best player was our best player tonight,” said Minnesota Duluth Coach Scott Sandelin.
The junior goaltender from South St. Paul played the perfect blend of top of the paint aggressiveness and listen to the coach, try not to do too much conservativeness.
“Alex looked in control--he’s very athletic, very focused, and very determined,” said Sandelin. “One thing he has matured at is not going out and doing too much. I motion to him to settle down, and he waves his stick at me to let me know he sees me. I’m glad we’ve got our communication down.”
The loss ends the Gopher’s regular season and cools their hopes of playing in the NCAA Regional at Mariucci next weekend.
“We’ll skate Saturday, we’re not out of it,” said Gopher Coach Don Lucia. “Obviously a win would help and there are a lot of scenarios out there, I haven’t gone through them all. I would have been comfortable had we won four or five games more the second half of the season.”
If the team does survive the bubble on Sunday, they might not have to worry about a flu bug that hit Kangas on Monday. The goalie was held out of practice Tuesday, didn’t finish the practice on Wednesday, and Lucia let Kent Patterson know earlier in the day he might play against Minnesota Duluth.
However, goaltending didn’t prove to be the downfall of the Gophers as the Bulldogs executed the recipe for success in post-season play by getting on the board first and then playing tight defense.
“They were consistent having four guys back, clogging up the neutral zone,” said Gopher Captain Ryan Stoa. “At the big rink they weren’t able to do that or they were not as consistent.”
The Bulldogs got their early goal 3:46 into the first period when defenseman Evan Oberg threw the puck on net from the left boards. Kangas made the initial save from the top of his crease, but lost control as he tried to gather the puck, and it bounced out to fortunate forward MacGregor Sharp who put it into an open net.
“I just finished a check, thought the puck was out of the zone, turned out front and there it was,” said Sharp.
Minnesota Duluth got their second goal late in the third period after killing off one of five Gopher power plays. Fourth-line winger and captain Matt Greer finished a check on Aaron Ness at the Bulldog blue line and then led a 2-on-1 rush with Drew Akins. Greer, who had thought about trying to get off the ice for line change took a low shot at the net.
“Matt doesn’t raise the puck a lot, so he shoots for a lot of rebounds,” said Sandelin.
Patterson didn’t get control of the rebound and as Atkins and Gopher defenseman David Fischer went into Patterson, the puck was directed past the goal line. The goal was reviewed upstairs, and the ruling on the ice was confirmed.
Cade Fairchild tallied the only goal for the Gophers—sort of. The sophomore defenseman shot the puck towards the net from the point, it deflected off traffic in front, and went over Stalock’s shoulder for Minnesota’s sole goal.
Minnesota pressured the Bulldogs as the seconds ticked down, but had trouble getting the puck to settle and the game ended as Andrew Carroll was hooking down Ryan Stoa.
“Good penalty. Great Penalty. That one didn’t bother me,” said Sandelin.