Minnesota 5, UMD 3





     MINNEAPOLIS – Saturday’s Minnesota Duluth game was being billed as a point of no return for its opponent – Minnesota.

      The Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s playoffs are still two weeks away and the NCAA playoffs are a month from now.

      But the Gophers believed their chance to finish in the league’s top half and earn home-ice for the WCHA tournament, and ultimately get into the 16-team Division I field was all tied one game.

     Three third-period goals gave Minnesota the win it so desperately sought in a 5-3 victory before 10,197 at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers finished off a game of surges with scores by Tony Lucia, Nico Sacchetti and Mike Hoffel, to offset a natural hat trick by UMD’s MacGregor Sharp.

     “If we had lost, home ice [in the WCHA playoffs] was over. We had no chance, now there is a chance,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It was critical that we win this game.”

     No. 17-ranked Minnesota (14-11-7 and 11-10-5 WCHA) scored the first two goals, UMD came back with the next three and the Gophers finished with the last three. No. 12 UMD (16-10-8 and 10-9-7) saw its four-game unbeaten streak despite outshooting Minnesota 31-27.

      If the teams finish tied for fifth place, Minnesota would have the head-to-head tiebreaker 1-0-1.

     “We showed character in coming back, but we have to take care of things after that. You have to seal the deal,” said UMD winger Justin Fontaine.

     Minnesota went up 1-0 in a dominating first period as scoring leader Ryan Stoa converted a Jordan Schroeder pass in a 2-on-1 break at 5:04. That gave a lift to the Gophers, who are 12-0-3 when scoring the first goal.

     After Minnesota went up 2-0 at 4:15 of the second period on a Justin Bostrom rebound goal, the Bulldogs were in dire straights. Then MacGregor Sharp struck for goals 81 seconds apart to forge a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.

     Just 11 seconds into a power play, Sharp grabbed his own rebound at the right side of the Minnesota net and curled behind for a wrap around score on the other side at 9:42. Moments later, linemate Mike Connolly got to a puck in the offensive zone, while lying on the ice, and knocked a pass to the crease. Sharp converted on his backhand with 8:57 left in the period for his 40th career goal.

      Sharp completed his hat trick, recording his sixth goal in five games, at 6:01 of the third period for a 3-2 lead. He intercepted a Minnesota pass at the right circle and gunned a shot for his 41st career goal and 17th of the season.

     “We dug ourselves a hole, got the lead back and then needed to buckle down, but instead we handed them a couple of goals,” said Sharp. “They were mental breakdowns on their transition game. It was the biggest game of the year and we lost.”

     UMD came into the game no less desperate, battling for a home playoff berth, which the Bulldogs haven’t had since 2004.

      After gaining the lead, Fontaine came back less than 60 seconds later and hit the crossbar behind goalie Alex Kangas, which was to be UMD’s last great chance. Lucia scored at 9:06 and 3:43 later Sacchetti, a freshman center from Virginia, made a good individual play off the right pipe by Alex Stalock for the winning goal. Hoeffel, who had a goal waived off with 3:10 to go because of a high stick, got an empty netter with 63 seconds left.

     Minnesota is a quick-strike team and they did that tonight,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We didn’t have a good start, we came back but then, when we finally got the lead, maybe we let down.”

     Qualifying for the NCAA tournament has added significance for Minnesota because the Gophers are the host team for the West Regional on March 27-28 at Mariucci Arena.

     UMD finishes the regular season at home Friday and Saturday against ninth-place Alaska Anchorage, while Minnesota is at last-place Michigan Tech. 

   

Minnesota Duluth…..0-2-1–3

Minnesota……….……1-1-3–5

 

   First period – 1. Minnesota, Ryan Stoa 18 (Jordan Schroeder, Cade Fairchild), 5:04. Penalties – Drew Akins, UMD (roughing), 9:34; Ryan Flynn, Minnesota (roughing), 9:34; Josh Meyers, UMD (tripping), 10:57; Jack Connolly, UMD (tripping), 14:04; Mike Hoeffel, Minnesota (hooking), 18:11. 

   Second period – 2. Minnesota, Justin Bostrom 5 (Fairchild, Joe Miller), 4:15; 3. UMD, MacGregor Sharp 15 (Justin Fontaine, Evan Ooberg), 9:42 (pp); 4. UMD, Sharp 16 (Mike Connolly, Fontaine), 11:03. Penalties – Aaron Ness, Minnesota (interference), 9:31; Nico Sacchetti, Minnesota (tripping), 14:01; David Fischer, Minnesota (tripping), 17:08; Akins, UMD (slashing), 19:40. 

   Third period – 5. UMD, Sharp 17, 6:01; 6. Minnesota, Tony Lucia 7 (Jordan Schroeder, Jay Barriball), 9:06; 7. Minnesota, Sacchetti 3 (Bostrom, Mike Carman), 12:49; 8. Minnesota, Mike Hoeffel 11, 18:57 (en). Penalties – Patrick White, Minnesota (high-sticking), 1:58; Chad Huttel, UMD (high-sticking), 1:58; Lucia, Minnesota (interference), 13:22; Josh Meyers, UMD (elbowing), 15:35. 

   Shots on goal – UMD 6-17-8–31; Minnesota 10-9-8–27. Goalies – Alex Stalock (15-10-8), UMD (27 shots-22 saves); Alex Kangas (14-11-6), Minnesota (31 shots-28 saves). Power plays – UMD 1-of-5, Minnesota 0-of-4. Referees – Scott Bokal, Brian Thul. Linesmen – Tony Czech, Jared Moen. A – 10,197.

Status Quo is Good

     Minnesota Duluth’s tie at Minnesota on Friday night kept the Bulldogs in place in the WCHA and, basically, in the PairWise Rankings, which are good places to be. The Bulldogs are alone at fifth in the league with 27 points, one point behind fourth-place Wisconsin and two points behind third-place Colorado College (which has afternoon games at North Dakota on Saturday and Sunday).

       Minnesota and St. Cloud State are tied for sixth, two points behind UMD.

       In the PairWise Rankings, UMD is tied for 12th with Miami of Ohio, after starting Friday at No. 13, so really no movement there. Denver’s 3-1 home win over St. Cloud State on Friday has moved Denver to No. 2 in the PairWise. North Dakota is tied at No. 8, Colorado College is tied at No. 15, Minnesota is No. 17 (moving up two spots), Wisconsin is tied at No. 19, St. Cloud State is No. 21 and Minnesota State Mankato No. 25.

     Mankato won the game of the night Friday, rallying to beat Wisconsin 4-3 in overtime in Mankato, Minn. A major point of contention came in the third period when Wisconsin’s Tom Gorowsky had a goal waived off for the second time in the game, for a kicking motion. That led to a heated discussion afterward between Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves and WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd, who was at the game. Here’s a few details from Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal: 

In the third, with UW clinging to a 3-2 lead, a centering pass from freshman pivot Derek Stepan hit the right skate of Gorowsky and caromed past Mankato goaltender Mike Zacharias (32 saves).

Referee Todd Anderson looked at the sequence on video along with partner Pete Freesma and waived it off, telling Eaves that Gorowsky used a distinct kicking motion, which is illegal.

“I don’t know how he made that distinction after watching it on video,” Gorowsky said. “I didn’t know I touched the puck at all. I saw it come through and I tried to hit it with my stick and I thought it went all the way through. I looked and it was in the back of the net.”

Eaves’ voice was elevated during a postgame discussion with Greg Shepherd, the WCHA supervisor of officials. When Eaves emerged from the ante room, he was diplomatic and terse with a sense of humor thrown in when asked about the two goals that weren’t.

“I’m not going to go down that path,” he said. “Obviously they were critical times in the game. Unless I was willing to give you a $1,000 check right now — unfortunately I called my wife and she said I can’t — I’m not going to say anything about those things.”

Public criticism of game officials could result in a fine from the WCHA, something Eaves tried to avoid.

“Those viewpoints that those gentlemen have certainly aren’t the ones we have,” he said.

The eventful third period began with Connelly denying center Trevor Bruess on a penalty shot, the first time that’s happened against UW since 2004 when Danny Irmen scored for Minnesota.

                          Conference Only               Overall
Pts GP Record Win% GF- GA GP Record Win% GF- GA
1 Denver            35  26 16- 7- 3 .673  94- 65   33 20- 9- 4 .667 118- 80
2 North Dakota      33  24 15- 6- 3 .688  85- 62   34 20-11- 3 .632 120- 89
3 Colorado College  29  25 12- 8- 5 .580  71- 73   33 16- 9- 8 .606  93- 87
4 Wisconsin         28  25 13-10- 2 .560  84- 72   33 16-14- 3 .530 108- 93
5 Minnesota Duluth  27  25 10- 8- 7 .540  69- 58   33 16- 9- 8 .606  97- 75
6 Minnesota         25  25 10-10- 5 .500  75- 74   31 13-11- 7 .532  99- 92
  St. Cloud State   25  25 12-12- 1 .500  76- 71   33 17-14- 2 .545 113- 90
8 Minnesota State   22  25 10-13- 2 .440  76- 82   33 14-15- 4 .485 102-103
9 Alaska Anchorage  19  26  7-14- 5 .365  60- 87   31 11-15- 5 .435  78- 98
10 Michigan Tech     9  26  1-18- 7 .173  41- 87   34  5-22- 7 .250  52-106 

UMD 2, Minnesota 2, tie





     MINNEAPOLIS – Leaving Houghton, Mich., with a tie last Saturday against last-place Michigan Tech didn’t sit well with Minnesota Duluth.

      A tie Friday night by the same score, 2-2, against No. 19-ranked Minnesota at Mariucci Arena was a bit more palatable in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game before a sold out crowd of 10,010.

     The No. 13 Bulldogs (16-9-8 and 10-8-7 in the WCHA) got goals from Matt Greer and Nick Kemp, never trailed and outshot the Gophers 36-33. UMD’s school-record eighth tie of the season kept the Bulldogs alone in fifth place in the league with three regular-season games left, two points ahead of the Gophers and St. Cloud State.

     “A tie isn’t what we came here for, but we had a good effort and ton of chances,” said Kemp, a senior from Hermantown. “We controlled the puck and moved it, we just didn’t bury enough of our chances.”

     The Gophers (13-11-7 and 10-10-5) are tied for sixth in the WCHA. Minnesota is 1-6-2 the last nine games and 3-8-2 the last 13.

     Sophomore center Patrick White of Grand Rapids scored with 4:13 left in the first period to make it 1-1 for the Gophers and freshman star center Jordan Schroeder used his speed for a goak with 4:45 left in the second. There was no more scoring.

      UMD, on a 2-0-2 unbeaten streak, led 36-33 in shots on goal, but its WCHA top-ranked power play was 0-for-3, including a five-minute stretch following a major penalty. Alex Stalock had 31 saves for the Bulldogs and freshman Kent Patterson, giving sophomore Alex Kangas a rest, had 34 stops in his first collegiate start.

      “[Patterson] was good, he gave us a chance to win. He was very patient,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It was a good entertaining game at a time in the season when every point is crucial.”

     A 1-1 first period included a number of near-goals on both ends. Stalock turned away Mike Carman and Mike Hoeffel on breakaways a few seconds apart, and defenseman Kevin Wehrs just missed on a tip as did Ryan Flynn. UMD’s Mike Connolly was stopped from close range by Patterson.

      The Bulldogs went up 1-0 after center Drew Akins pulled the puck free along the sideboards and passed to the high slot. Defenseman Chad Huttel shot from there, Patterson made the save and Greer converted the rebound.

      “The [final] shots on goal reflects our effort. We got the puck down low and cycled it, and it felt like we controlled most of the play,” said Greer. “But a tie still leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”

    White drove a shot from the slot that beat Stalock inside the left pipe with 4:13 left in the first period to make it 1-1.

     With the help of a five-minute checking-from-behind major penalty on freshman Jake Hansen’s hit on Greer, the Bulldogs skated the final 4:33 of the second period with a man advantage. But UMD couldn’t break from a 2-2 tie.

      Nick Kemp had put the Bulldogs up 2-1 just 12 seconds into the period when Patterson couldn’t handle a Mike Connolly shot. Kemp controlled a bouncing puck and edged it across the goal line. Schroeder got loose for a breakaway and his 13th goal of the season and 36th point in 29 games, made it 2-2.

      “I asked our group to have a good 60-minute performance and we did that,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin of the Bulldogs, who ended up playing 65 minutes. “No one won the special teams game (Minnesota had only one power play) and both goalies were good. It was pretty even.”

     UMD is one point behind fourth-place Wisconsin, which lost 4-3 in overtime Friday at Minnesota State-Mankato. Minnesota tied for sixth with St. Cloud State, which lost 3-1 at Denver.

    The first meeting of the season between UMD and Minnesota will be followed by a repeat at 6:07 p.m. today. 

   

Minnesota Duluth…..1-1-0-0–2

Minnesota……….……1-1-0-0–2

 

   First period – 1. UMD, Matt Greer 3 (Chad Huttel, Drew Akins), 4:00; 2. Minnesota, Patrick White 6 (Ryan Flynn), 15:47. Penalties – Jordan Fulton, UMD (roughing), 1:26; Mike Carman, Minnesota (roughing), 1:26; Andrew Carroll, UMD (high-sticking), 4:44. 

   Second period – 2. UMD, Nick Kemp 4 (Mike Connolly, MacGregor Sharp), :12; 4. Minnesota, Jordan Schroeder 13 (Ryan Stoa), 15:15. Penalties – Justin Bostrom, Minnesota (roughing), 3:11; Akins, UMD (roughing), 3:11; Nico Sacchetti, Minnesota (tripping), 8:26; Jake Hansen, Minnesota (5-minute checking-from-behind major, 10-minute game misconduct), 15:27. 

   Third period – No scoring. Penalty – Stoa, Minnesota (slashing), 6:53. 

   Overtime – No scoring. Penalties – Andrew Carroll, UMD (roughing), 2:05; Tony Lucia, Minnesota (roughing), 2:05. 

   Shots on goal – UMD 10-16-9-1–36; Minnesota 11-8-10-4–33. Goalies – Alex Stalock (15-9-8), UMD (33 shots-31 saves); Kent Patterson (0-0-1), Minnesota (36 shots-34 saves). Power plays – UMD 0-of-3, Minnesota 0-of-1. Referees – Scott Bokal, Brian Thul. Linesmen – Tony Czech, Jared Moen. A – 10,010.

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UMD 2, Minnesota 2, tie





     MINNEAPOLIS – Leaving Houghton, Mich., with a tie last Saturday against last-place Michigan Tech didn’t sit well with Minnesota Duluth.

      A tie Friday night by the same score, 2-2, against No. 19-ranked Minnesota at Mariucci Arena was a bit more palatable in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game before a sold out crowd of 10,010.

     The No. 13 Bulldogs (16-9-8 and 10-8-7 in the WCHA) got goals from Matt Greer and Nick Kemp, never trailed and outshot the Gophers 36-33. UMD’s school-record eighth tie of the season kept the Bulldogs, momentarily, alone in fifth place in the league with three regular-season games left, two points ahead of the Gophers.

     “A tie isn’t what we came here for, but we had a good effort and ton of chances,” said Kemp, a senior from Hermantown. “We controlled the puck and moved it, we just didn’t bury enough of our chances.”

     The Gophers (13-11-7 and 10-10-5) are tied for sixth in the WCHA. Minnesota is 1-6-2 the last nine games and 3-8-2 the last 13.

     Sophomore center Patrick White of Grand Rapids scored with 4:13 left in the first period to make it 1-1 for the Gophers and freshman star center Jordan Schroeder used his speed for a goal with 4:45 left in the second. There was no more scoring.

      UMD, on a 2-0-2 unbeaten streak, led 36-33 in shots on goal, but its WCHA top-ranked power play was 0-for-3, including a five-minute stretch following a second-period major penalty. Alex Stalock had 31 saves for the Bulldogs and freshman Kent Patterson, giving sophomore Alex Kangas a rest, had 34 stops in his first collegiate start.

      “[Patterson] was good, he gave us a chance to win. He was very patient,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It was a good entertaining game at a time in the season when every point is crucial.”

     A 1-1 first period included a number of near-goals on both ends. Stalock turned away Mike Carman and Mike Hoeffel on breakaways a few seconds apart, and defenseman Kevin Wehrs just missed on a tip as did Ryan Flynn. UMD’s Mike Connolly was stopped from close range by Patterson.

      The Bulldogs went up 1-0 after center Drew Akins pulled the puck free along the sideboards and passed to the high slot. Defenseman Chad Huttel shot from there, Patterson made the save and Greer converted the rebound.

      “The [final] shots on goal reflects our effort. We got the puck down low and cycled it, and it felt like we controlled most of the play,” said Greer. “But a tie still leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”

    White drove a shot from the slot that beat Stalock inside the left pipe with 4:13 left in the first period to make it 1-1.

     With the help of a five-minute checking-from-behind major penalty on freshman Jake Hansen’s hit on Greer, the Bulldogs skated the final 4:33 of the second period with a man advantage. But UMD couldn’t break from a 2-2 tie.

      Nick Kemp had put the Bulldogs up 2-1 just 12 seconds into the period when Patterson couldn’t handle a Mike Connolly shot. Kemp controlled a bouncing puck and edged it across the goal line. Schroeder got loose for a breakaway and his 13th goal of the season and 36th point in 29 games, made it 2-2.

      “I asked our group to have a good 60-minute performance and we did that,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin of the Bulldogs, who ended up playing 65 minutes. “No one won the special teams game (Minnesota had only one power play) and both goalies were good. It was pretty even.”

     UMD is one point behind fourth-place Wisconsin, which lost 4-3 in overtime Friday at Minnesota State-Mankato. Minnesota was momentarily tied for sixth with St. Cloud State, which was playing at Colorado College.

    The first meeting of the season between UMD and Minnesota will be followed by a repeat at 6:07 p.m. today. 

   

Minnesota Duluth…..1-1-0-0–2

Minnesota……….……1-1-0-0–2

 

   First period – 1. UMD, Matt Greer 3 (Chad Huttel, Drew Akins), 4:00; 2. Minnesota, Patrick White 6 (Ryan Flynn), 15:47. Penalties – Jordan Fulton, UMD (roughing), 1:26; Mike Carman, Minnesota (roughing), 1:26; Andrew Carroll, UMD (high-sticking), 4:44. 

   Second period – 2. UMD, Nick Kemp 4 (Mike Connolly, MacGregor Sharp), :12; 4. Minnesota, Jordan Schroeder 13 (Ryan Stoa), 15:15. Penalties – Justin Bostrom, Minnesota (roughing), 3:11; Akins, UMD (roughing), 3:11; Nico Sacchetti, Minnesota (tripping), 8:26; Jake Hansen, Minnesota (5-minute checking-from-behind major, 10-minute game misconduct), 15:27. 

   Third period – No scoring. Penalty – Stoa, Minnesota (slashing), 6:53. 

   Overtime – No scoring. Penalties – Andrew Carroll, UMD (roughing), 2:05; Tony Lucia, Minnesota (roughing), 2:05. 

   Shots on goal – UMD 10-16-9-1–36; Minnesota 11-8-10-4–33. Goalies – Alex Stalock (15-9-8), UMD (33 shots-31 saves); Kent Patterson (0-0-1), Minnesota (36 shots-34 saves). Power plays – UMD 0-of-3, Minnesota 0-of-1. Referees – Scott Bokal, Brian Thul. Linesmen – Tony Czech, Jared Moen. A – 10,010.

UMD Lands Star Defenseman

     Minnesota Duluth has received an oral commitment from star defenseman Dylan Olsen of Calgary, Alberta, who plays for the Camrose Kodiaks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

     Olsen, 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, was rated No. 23 among North American skaters in Mid-Season Rankings by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau leading up to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

     "There’s never been a defenseman from the Alberta Junior Hockey League taken in the first round of the NHL draft and Dylan has the opportunity to be the first," Camrose coach Boris Rybalka said Friday afternoon. "He’s a franchise player, a complete player, who can skate, shoot and be physical. He’s one of the league’s top defensemen in many years."

     Olsen, 18, has 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points in 52 regular-season games. Camrose finished the regular season 29-18-1 and opens the league playoffs Saturday at Calgary.

     On UMD’s team this season from Camrose are sophomore defenseman Evan Oberg and forwards senior MacGregor Sharp and freshman Mike Connolly.

     Olsen was a 2009 Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division all-star with teammate Andrew MacWilliam, a defenseman who has given a commitment to North Dakota. Connolly’s linemate from last season at Camrose, center Joe Colborne, is a freshman at the University of Denver. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, 16th overall by Boston. 

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Stapleton’s Heroic Debut

      Former Minnesota Duluth center Tim Stapleton (2002-26) made his NHL debut Thursday with the Toronto Maple Leafs at age 26, and all he did was, well, here’s the story from the Toronto Star. Plus watch a prank that his new teammates pulled on Stapleton even before the game started, sending him out onto the ice ALONE. Plus video of Toronto’s shootout goals, including one from former North Dakota star Jason Blake which is pretty amazing, followed by Stapleton:

Prank on video here

Shootout goals here

 Rookie shines in Leaf debut


Sports Reporter

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – He started the evening as the red-faced victim of a practical joke. But, when it was over, it was Maple Leafs’ call-up Tim Stapleton who got the last laugh.

Making his NHL debut, Stapleton scored the shootout winner on a wrist shot in a wacky 5-4 Toronto victory over the Islanders last night, a game in which the Leafs won their third straight after twice blowing two-goal leads.

Stapleton, the Marlies’ leading scorer this season, finally getting his big-league chance at age 26, said he was a little overwhelmed most of the night as he skated on a line with Jason Blake and Dominic Moore.

"I was nervous. I don’t even remember half the game. My first shift; I don’t even remember," he recounted through a grin that won’t be fading any time soon.

"I didn’t know I scored until I curled and the guys were jumping up and down. It was definitely a good feeling. To have that kind of finish in my first NHL game is definitely something I’ll remember."

He’ll also never forget hitting the ice for the warmup. His teammates, seemingly wanting to honour the rookie’s historic moment, told Stapleton to lead them on to the ice. There was only one problem: They didn’t follow, leaving the newcomer to drift around the Toronto end, skating a lap by himself.

"I knew the joke, they told me to lead the way … definitely embarrassing," he said. "It actually kind of broke the ice for me and made me a little bit more comfortable."

Head coach Ron Wilson said he never saw any discomfort in Stapleton, a player Toronto signed as a free agent last summer, and that’s why he wrote him down as his third shooter. It didn’t hurt that Stapleton came with a reputation for being one of the top shootout guys in the American Hockey League.

"The kid’s a sniper. He’s scored at every level," said Wilson. "I never saw any nervousness in him all night long. He had some great chances, so I thought, `What the heck?’ I’m glad it worked out for him. I’m sure it’s a huge thrill for him. I think he’s earned another shot."

Jeff Tambellini had scored for the Isles earlier in the shootout, then Blake tied it up, reprising his spin-around move to a backhand at the edge of the crease. That set the stage for the 5-foot-9 Stapleton, who is from the Chicago area but no relation to Pat Stapleton, the Blackhawks’ great defenceman from the 1960s and ’70s.

The Leafs have now taken points in five consecutive games, a season high, with all five of those games going to either overtime or a shootout. That they’ve cobbled together that streak without defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Mike Van Ryn and then, last night, the absence of blueliner Jeff Finger, makes it more impressive.

"That’s why I’m growing my hair long, so you can’t see how grey I am," joked Wilson of all the extra time his team has been working. "Holy cow. I try to tell the players, you don’t get paid for overtime in this league."

Some Leafs fans are likely going a little grey, too, as the Leafs inch up in the standings and further out of the John Tavares sweepstakes. This victory moved Toronto out of the sixth draft position – depending on the lottery, of course – into seventh behind Phoenix. A team has to finish in the bottom five to have a shot to win the lottery and the chance to draft the London Knights’ star.

"We don’t think about that in here," said Blake. "We approach every game trying to win the hockey game. The effort’s got to be there and lately the effort has been there. We’re not out of it. As a group in here we believe and we just have to keep playing hard."

The 11th-place Leafs are nine points out of an East playoff spot.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tim Stapleton, left, is congratulated by teammates after scoring in a shootout against the New York Islanders in an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Maple Leafs won 5-4.

 

 

Game Day Gophers

      Here’s an update on the University of Minnesota from the Twin Cities daily newspapers as the Gophers prepare to matchup with Minnesota Duluth on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

BY ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

The season is at a crossroads.

If the Gophers men’s hockey team sweeps Minnesota Duluth this weekend, home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs is within its grasp.

Get swept, as the seventh-place Gophers have in three of the past four series, and it’s hit the road — just like last season.

The Gophers survived that fate in 2008, winning two of three overtime games at Minnesota State Mankato to advance to the WCHA Final Five.

So which way are the Gophers headed? Who better to ask than three team elders — the Energizer Bunny, Mr. Consistency and the Captain. They have been roommates for three years, and two of them are in a reflective mode. Winger Justin Bostrom (the Energizer Bunny) and defenseman R.J. Anderson (Mr. Consistency) will be honored Saturday on Senior Night. Ryan Stoa, the junior captain of the team, is in his fourth year and is likely to turn pro after the season.

The weekend games could be their last at Mariucci since the team finishes its regular season the following week at Michigan Tech.

Bostrom: It’s correctable

Bostrom was elected as one of the team’s assistant captains this season. Gophers coach Don Lucia and Stoa both called him the team’s Energizer Bunny this week. "He has been a great penalty killer," Lucia said, "and he plays with great energy each and every night."

"He is an upbeat guy, everybody loves him," Stoa said.

Maybe insightful, too. Bostrom said he and other players know what is wrong: "I think it is something that is correctable. … It is just little details."

Bostrom has played in 141 games. What’s the best part of being a Gopher? "Being able to put on the ‘M’ and trying to carry on the pride and tradition this program has," he said. "Just being part of championship teams that have hung some banners, nobody can take that away from you. We will be able to come back in years and see our banners."

To keep the legacy going, Bostrom said he still hopes the Gophers will be back at Mariucci for the first round of the WCHA playoffs and for the NCAA West Regional on March 27 and 28.

Anderson: Goals reachable

Anderson has played in 144 games. A broken fingernail won’t keep him out this weekend, he said.

"I don’t put up big numbers," Anderson said, who has three assists this season. "To make a good breakout pass or to get the puck in transition to the skill guys who score goals, that’s my job."

On his radio show Monday, Lucia referred to Anderson as Mr. Consistency. "He plays a safe game," Lucia said, "and you know what you will get from him every night."

Stoa calls Anderson the team’s grizzly man. "He is our outdoorsman," Stoa said. "He likes fishing and hunting and he always has some camouflage on."

He always is smiling, too. Well, not always recently. "There are nights when I have gone home and been pretty upset, so have all the guys," Anderson said. "We just got to stay positive and keep our chins up. We can still accomplish everything we want to."

Anderson has tasted that success. "My sophomore year, when we won the MacNaughton Cup and the Final Five, that was unbelievable for the whole state, the team."

Stoa: A sweep needed

Stoa, the team captain, came to the Gophers with Bostrom and Anderson. But Stoa is a junior in eligibility because he took a medical redshirt year. He had knee surgery after two games last season.

The Colorado Avalanche selected him in the second round of the 2005 NHL draft, and it’s likely he will turn pro after this season. "Physically, he is ready," Lucia said.

But Stoa is not talking about his future yet. His focus is UMD. "It’s got to be this weekend we turn it around," Stoa said. "We’ve got to get two wins. We are expecting nothing less than that."

BY BRUCE BROTHERS, ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS

This Gophers men’s hockey season has been more unpredictable than a Minnesota senate race.

"It is one of the strangest seasons," coach Don Lucia said.

Lucia’s Gophers have been either very, very good or very, very average, leaving them in seventh place in the WCHA with four regular-season games to go. Home ice for the conference playoffs is in doubt, and so is a berth in the NCAA tournament, even though the Gophers are scheduled to play host to a regional this year.

"We put ourselves in this position," Lucia said. "The answers and the solutions are in the locker room."

After winning just one of their past eight games, the Gophers have dropped out of the national rankings and plummeted to 19th in the PairWise rankings that mimic NCAA selection criteria. A team generally needs to be 13th or higher to be assured of an NCAA berth.

"You go 1-6-1 in eight games, that’s what’s going to happen," Lucia said. "You’ve got to win games and play yourself in. We have to do that now."

"Now" begins with a two-game home series tonight and Saturday against Minnesota-Duluth, which is two points ahead of the Gophers in fifth place in the WCHA. The top five teams get home ice for the first round of conference playoffs.

The "strange" factor surrounding this season is exemplified, Lucia said, by the fact the Gophers’ past six losses have all been by one goal, not counting empty-netters.

"It’s a key blocked shot, a key save, all those things have to happen," he

This Gophers men’s hockey season has been more unpredictable than a Minnesota senate race. 

"It is one of the strangest seasons," coach Don Lucia said.

Lucia’s Gophers have been either very, very good or very, very average, leaving them in seventh place in the WCHA with four regular-season games to go. Home ice for the conference playoffs is in doubt, and so is a berth in the NCAA tournament, even though the Gophers are scheduled to play host to a regional this year.

"We put ourselves in this position," Lucia said. "The answers and the solutions are in the locker room."

After winning just one of their past eight games, the Gophers have dropped out of the national rankings and plummeted to 19th in the PairWise rankings that mimic NCAA selection criteria. A team generally needs to be 13th or higher to be assured of an NCAA berth.

"You go 1-6-1 in eight games, that’s what’s going to happen," Lucia said. "You’ve got to win games and play yourself in. We have to do that now."

"Now" begins with a two-game home series tonight and Saturday against Minnesota-Duluth, which is two points ahead of the Gophers in fifth place in the WCHA. The top five teams get home ice for the first round of conference playoffs.

The "strange" factor surrounding this season is exemplified, Lucia said, by the fact the Gophers’ past six losses have all been by one goal, not counting empty-netters.

"It’s a key blocked shot, a key save, all those things have to happen," he said.

 Lucia’s team fired on all cylinders early, going 7-0-4 through its first 11 games and getting excellent goaltending. Since, the wheels have come off in one area or another at the most inopportune times.

"We’ve played well and lost," he said. "Obviously, that’s not good enough. You’ve got to win."

Minnesota isn’t alone: UMD, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State and Colorado College are also on the NCAA bubble, Lucia said, and "it’s going to be elimination time in the first round of the playoffs. And because of where other teams are around the country, you’re not going to lose in the first round and get back in. In fact, there are probably certain teams that are going to have to win the first round and do some things in the WCHA Final Five."

There’s not an overabundance of talent on this year’s Gophers, Lucia pointed out.

"We have some good players. I can’t say we’re real deep, offensively," he said. "Look at our numbers, I think we’re scoring enough. Look back at the beginning of the year; how were we winning games? We were winning games because we had great goaltending, and we were winning games 3-2. We weren’t beating anybody 5-1.

"We were winning one-goal games, and now we’re losing one-goal games."

Lucia believes his players have plenty of pride and motivation, but the ingredients have to mesh. Foremost of those is goaltending, where starter Alex Kangas has to get his numbers back to where they were early in the season, Lucia said.

"We’re not going to win many games 4-3, 5-4," he said. "We have to win 3-2."

Adding to the strange factor was Lucia’s January illness that at first was feared to be cancer before it was diagnosed as sarcoidosis. Even when his status remained in limbo, Lucia remained upbeat. That hasn’t changed as the team’s losses have accumulated.

"I’ve been doing this a long time, so it’s not like I’m going to change what has worked," he said. "One or two good weeks and you vault yourself right back up."

The treatment for Lucia’s illness is about as fun as a losing record, but "it is what it is. You face adversity and you have to deal with it," he said. "I deal with it, just like team has to deal with things."

The Rivalry: UMD vs. Minnesota





Remember Minnesota Duluth coach Mike Sertich sliding into a net after a victory? Or Minnesota goal-scoring whiz Dave Spehar being razzed by hometown fans? Or UMD’s Huffer Christiansen zipping around the ice for six assists?

Three memorable moments from the DECC in the Minnesota Duluth versus University of Minnesota men’s hockey rivalry.

But how’s that rivalry today?

When No. 13-ranked UMD (16-9-7) plays at No. 19 Minnesota today and Saturday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, it will be the first meeting between the programs in 51 weeks. A revised Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule, which went into effect 10 years ago with the addition of Minnesota State-Mankato, has meant fewer games between the traditional rivals.

“When you only play a team one weekend in a season, that builds the excitement,” said UMD senior defenseman Jay Cascalenda, who grew up in West St. Paul and attended Hill-Murray High School. “I still look at the rivalry as bigger than any other. You know almost all the players on the other team.”

 Starting in 1967-68, UMD’s third season in the WCHA, the Bulldogs and Gophers met a minimum of four times every regular season for the next 34 years, with the exception of 1984-85. In three years (1981-84), when the WCHA had six teams, UMD and Minnesota met six times per season.

But starting in 2002-03, a new schedule rotation caught up with the rivalry. The teams now alternate with two games one season and four the next. That meant Minnesota did not play at the DECC in 2004-05 and this season. UMD didn’t play in Minneapolis in 2002-03 and 2006-07.

“A number of things contribute to a rivalry, like location and how often you play,” said UMD senior winger Matt Greer, a White Bear Lake High School graduate from Vadnais Heights, Minn. “The Gophers are only 150 miles away and there’s always a lot of pride on the line when we play. But if you start playing a team less often, you’re taking something out of the rivalry.”

 It was 14 months between games from November of 2006 to January of 2008, and now nearly a calendar year. WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod says that 10 teams playing 28 league games per season won’t allow for home-and-home series again for everyone. If the league expands, a distinct possibility, there will be fewer games with certain WCHA opponents.

UMD also is facing Mankato, North Dakota and Colorado College in just two regular-season games in 2008-09.

“Ideally, we’d all love to play each other four times in a season, but that just can’t be worked out any more. So you just enjoy it when you do play a rival,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said.

The rivalry has been pretty good this decade. The teams are 8-8-2 the past 18 games starting in 2003-04, although the Gophers are 6-1-1 the past eight. UMD won the most recent game, 3-2 at Mariucci Arena on March 8 last year.

The DECC is missing out on two soldout games this season without having the Gophers in town, but Minnesota returns in exactly one year on Feb. 26-27, 2010. UMD plays in Minneapolis next season on Nov. 20-21.

 

Lucia on the Mend

One day Don Lucia was running five miles on a treadmill. The next day he was in a hospital emergency room with a mystery illness.

In December, at age 50, the University of Minnesota men’s hockey coach was knocked low.

It took nearly a month before he received a diagnosis: sarcoidosis, an inflammation of unknown cause, which was affecting nerves, numbing the left side of his face.

Lucia missed four games, but has been back behind the bench for the last 10 and will be at Mariucci Arena on Friday and Saturday for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Minnesota Duluth.

“I’ll have this for the rest of my life, but it may not reappear again. It can stay dormant,” Lucia, a native of Grand Rapids, said this week. “Fatigue and sleep-deprivation have been the toughest part.

“Maybe taking time off would be the best thing, but that’s just not in my nature. How can you do that to a team? I’d feel guilty. You just come to work and give what you have.”

One-hour intravenous steroid treatments every Monday morning have reduced the inflammation by 50 percent, Lucia said. He’ll continue that schedule through mid-April and then be examined every three months for two years.

While some feeling on his left side has returned, Lucia is unable to exercise and often is tired. The first thing he did after Minnesota arrived in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week for a series against Colorado College was to take a nap. He’s also had to rest at his office during work days.

“I’ve missed some of my son [Mario’s] bantam games, I haven’t been able to go out recruiting, and on some days I’ve been too tired to do some normal coaching things like breaking down game film,” said Lucia, who underwent neck vertebrae fusion surgery in 2004.

Through 22 seasons overall, Lucia is 531-279-73, including six years at Colorado College and six at Alaska Fairbanks and the last 10 with the Gophers. At Minnesota he claimed consecutive NCAA Division I titles in 2002 and 2003.

His son, Tony, is a junior winger for the Gophers (13-11-6), who are seventh in the WCHA, two points behind fifth-place UMD (16-9-7). Minnesota started the season 7-0-4 but since is 6-11-2 and 1-6-1 the past eight games, including 4-3 and 5-3 losses at Colorado College. Minnesota’s schedule is ranked the second-toughest in Division I.

“Our last five losses have all been by one-goal [excluding empty-net goals] so I can’t say we haven’t been giving a good effort. We have been,” said Don Lucia. “Things are so close in our league that it seems to come down to one or two goals every night.”

Home ice battle

After gaining three of four points at Michigan Tech last weekend, UMD is alone in fifth place in the WCHA with four games left in the regular season. The Bulldogs are 7-2-1 the last 10 games and 12-5-3 the last 20.

Eight teams are vying for the league’s top five spots, to gain home ice for the first round of the playoffs. Minnesota and UMD are essentially in a playoff situation the next two weeks.

“We’re playing for position, to gain confidence and to get better,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Against Minnesota we’re facing a team that’s as dangerous as anyone in our league.”

Bring on the Wolverines

      In this week’s NCAA Division I tournament projection by U.S. College Hockey Online’s Jayson Moy, Minnesota Duluth would face Michigan in the Round of 16 at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. The Bulldogs have a chance to get a good feeling in the rink Friday and Saturday with regular-season games against Minnesota. The Gophers, of course, are battling to move up in the PairWise Rankings and earn an NCAA spot, which would also place them at home for the West Regional. Today, UMD is No. 13 in the PairWise and Minnesota is No. 19. Here is the USCHO Bracketology for this week:

West Regional, Minneapolis
Minnesota Duluth vs. Michigan
North Dakota vs. Princeton

Midwest Regional, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Air Force vs. Notre Dame
Miami vs. Northeastern

East Regional, Bridgeport, Conn.
St. Lawrence vs. Denver
Yale vs. Vermont

Northeast Regional, Manchester, N.H.
Bemidji State vs. Boston University
New Hampshire vs. Cornell

Conference Breakdown
Hockey East – 4
ECAC – 4
CCHA – 3
WCHA – 3
CHA – 1
AHA – 1

Moved In
St. Lawrence

Moved Out
Minnesota