Gophers Trail in the Third, Rally Late to Beat UAA 4-3
Despite the thrilling win, Don Lucia cannot be happy with his team's effort tonight.
Photo by: Craig Cotner Seth Ambroz watches as Ben Marshall's shot beats Alaska Anchorage goalie Rob Gunderson for the game winner. After rallying back from a 1-0 deficit at the end of a horrible first period, the Gophers led after two but seemed to stop playing in the third, giving up two goals in the final stanza of the game before rallying back with two of their own on a late five-minute-major to beat last-place UAA 4-3
"Sometimes you have to win this way" said Lucia, who seemed more willing to praise his players' efforts than to display any anger at their performance.
The first period was not a good one. Sloppy passing, lethargic skating and a general lack of urgency marked what was ultimately an utterly forgettable first. Alaska-Anchorage won the shots battle 12-8 and, more importantly, won the scoreboard battle 1-0 when Quinn Sproule banged in a wraparound attempt at 5:17 of the period for his second goal of the year.
Although Coach Lucia didn't let on, Nick Bjugstad mentioned the ire the team drew from the coaching staff after that first frame: "We started out a little slow in the first, and we got a well-deserved talking to between periods"
After that talking-to, the second period was all Minnesota. The Gophers drew a penalty early and capitalized at 2:10 when Kyle Rau, in his usual position at the weak-side post, deflected a Sam Warning slapshot from the right circle to knot the game up at 1. Nate Schmidt had the second assist on the Rau goal. About five minutes later at 7:27, Nick Bjugstad used Kyle Rau as a perfect decoy on a 2-on-1 rush, beating Seawolf goalie Rob Gunderson with a wrister high to the glove side. The goal gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead in the game.
It would not last in the third period, though. UAA got third period goals from Daniel Naslund at 10:37 to tie the game at 2-2, and Scott Allen scored for the Seawolves with just under five minutes remaining in the period to take a 3-2 lead. However, the Gophers caught a break as Tyler Currier took a checking from behind penalty at 15:52, giving Minnesota a 5 minute major powerplay for the remainder of regulation time. Minnesota capitalized with one-time goals from Nick Bjugstad with 3:11 remaining and Ben Marshall with 51 seconds left on the clock to pull out the game 4-3. At the end, Minnesota improved to 7-3-3 in the WCHA (15-3-3 overall) and moved closer to the top of the league standings.
Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak was not happy with the major call: "In this day and age I'll take a two-minute penalty there, but five? If you look at the NHL they don't call that. At the NHL, at this level, that shouldn't be a major." Don Lucia said the call was "a blessing" and Bjugstad described it as a "gift," but good teams find a way to win, and despite playing relatively poor hockey for at least 35 minutes of this game the Gophers found a way tonight.
The two teams battle again tomorrow at 7PM. The game can be seen and heard on Fox Sports North and ESPN 1500.
Notes: Three Stars of the Game were 3) Kyle Rau (1G-1A-2P), 2) Ben Marshall (1G-0A-1P), and 1) Nick Bjugstad (2G-0A-2P). Also having a good night were Christian Isackson and Nate Schmidt (2 assists each). The Gopher specialty teams were solid again, going 3-6 on the powerplay while killing all three Seawolf powerplays. The Gophers ended up outshooting UAA 30-20. Minnesota is now unbeaten in their last seven games, going 6-0-1 over that span. Their last loss came at home against Nebraska-Omaha on November 30th.