Sputtering Offense, Special Teams Struggles Highlight Loss
“We scored a goal” said Coach Lucia with a smile.
In a more positive mood than one would think, Coach Lucia was very introspective after Friday night’s 3 – 1 loss to Duluth. “I felt, going in, with this group; that this is probably the least comfortable I’ve been with a group as far as what they can and can’t do”.
That’s certainly showing early on. While the Gophers were able to bottle up Duluth most of the night, they showed very little ability offensively once they gained possession of the puck and aside from the first period and last few minutes of regulation, were fairly sluggish and empty in terms of creativity.
Things only really picked up in the game about halfway through when Duluth connected quickly, on back-to-back power plays to take a 2 – 0 lead. First, Jared Thomas ripped a shot over Eric Schierhorn’s shoulder. Thomas got himself in a good position inside the Gopher four-man box and was able to get all of a tight pass from Adam Johnson.
After a questionable roughing call on Brent Gates, Jr., Austin Farley slammed home a rebound off of a Neal Poink shot from the point. Poink’s shot hit off both posts; most Gopher players assumed it was in and sagged, fortunately for Duluth, Farley jumped on the loose puck and doubled the lead.
“Overall that was the difference for us, we won the special teams game, and we won the hockey game” said Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin.
Brent Gates Jr. opened the season & game scoring for the Gophers, at the five minute mark of the third. Gates gathered the puck at the side of the net, turned and fired – kind of a blind shot – that beat Kasimir Kaskisuo under his glove and the team & building had life. But that lasted only about 30 seconds as Dominic Toninato put Duluth back up by 2 goals with a great individual effort – with Vinni Lettieri chasing, Toninato drug the puck through the slot and put 2 shots on Schierhorn, who made 2 great saves. But nobody cleared the rebound or was able to tie up Toninato, who put the puck in from just over the goal line.
“The second shift right after that (Gates’s goal) is just as big as the goal” said Michael Brodzinski. “We let up a goal right after our goal; so it just killed the fans, killed everybody on the bench”.
A small flurry or two in the Bulldog zone was all the Gophers could muster in the last two minutes, even with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker. Certainly a bit of a frustrating start but a few things shouldn’t be lost yet. The defense has been pretty stout and strong position-wise. Schierhorn, in his two starts, has been pretty solid, even above average. Brodzinski alluded to the penalty kill, which struggled tonight, being different this year. And with a number of new players it might take some time to get going offensively. Coach Lucia mentioned, if nothing else, the strength factor with some of the forwards.
I feel like a change in venues might be good for the Gophers but Duluth is tough on home ice and this is their home opener. Could be tough sledding but maybe we’ll get an early season surprise. I’d expect a lineup change or two tomorrow, for the rematch in Duluth, although based on Lucia’s decisions over the last decade, that Schierhorn would be in net again. 7PM on FSN.