Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Paul bound for Gophers

Five overtime sessions and more than 262 minutes of hockey later, the seventh seeded Minnesota Gopher hockey team is heading to St. Paul for the WCHA Final Five.

It was an improbable way to end a series that the fourth seeded Minnesota State University-Mankato squad looked to be in control with after a 1-0 double overtime win in game one.

But a Gophers 2-1 overtime win Saturday set the stage for the rubber match, and nearly five periods into the game, a Tony Lucia rebound goal beat Maverick netminder Mike Zacharias, setting off a celebration that rivaled last year's Final Five championship win a season ago.

As Gophers coach Don Lucia said, it was a remarkable series from both teams and both goaltenders. Freshman Alex Kangas made 115 saves on 119 shots - yes, that's a remarkable save percentage of .966 with a goals against average of 1.33. His season marks should be good enough to break both school records, including the save percentage record that has been in the books since 1957.

The Gophers are headed to St. Paul because of Kangas, who according to announcer and former state champion goaltender Kevin Gorg, had the most remarkable weekend of hockey he's seen in 25 years. Kangas is this team's MVP, and is the reason they could win one or two, or maybe even three games at the X.

While Kangas was the story this weekend, the offense picked up a bit after struggling Friday night. Mike Carman and the second line got a game-winner Saturday. Justin Bostrom and the fourth liners also added one. Tonight, it was Jay Barriball, who returned from a two week absence, Lucia's game winner and Patrick White's second period goal.

I've been really down on Mr. Hockey 2007 star from Grand Rapids, but he has elevated his play the past month, scoring four goals in four weeks after scoring just two in the first three months. He still might be a little weak on the puck, but he is creating opportunities, which is something the offensively challenged Gophers need.

Still, Minnesota was 0-for-13 on the power play this weekend, while two of four Maverick goals came with the man advantage. Mankato even got the winner Friday short-handed. Minnesota can't win without a better power play.

Hats off to the D corp, which features three freshman, for a great weekend. I was really impressed with them in front of the net. They didn't allow the Mavericks many chances in front.

I also should mention that senior Tom Pohl, who left on a stretcher in the second period, appears to have a broken nose and a severe concussion after his helmetless head slammed on the wall in front of the bench. Pohl may not score many goals, but he is "charlie hustle" and is a good penalty kill guy. The injury will force freshman Drew Fisher into action now.

So, what's next? The St. Cloud State Huskies. Another inter-state rival. Game is Thursday night at the X. The Huskies swept Wisconsin, while Denver, Colorado and North Dakota all advanced as well. More on the Final Five later this week.

Until then, ski-u-mah. Go Gophers! Rah!


PJS said...

Good stuff. I tried to stay up and watch the game, but after the first OT last night sleep sounded very good. I guess I'm the Tony Kornheiser, minus the advanced sense of humor, of the Minnesota blogosphere.

alex said...

That game last night was fantastic. I don't watch much hockey, but I turned that game on with about 10 minutes left in the third and was sucked in to watching the whole thing. Fantastic job by Kangas, I was convinced one of those many opportunities was going to slip by somehow.

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