Two of the Gophers' best, most exciting games of the 2011-12 season came early. They swept defending NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth 5-4 in overtime and 5-4 in regulation at Amsoil Arena in their first WCHA series of the season. It was mid-October and the Gophers went on to win the MacNaughton Cup.
Now the two teams meet again -- for the first time since that series during which the Gophers faced 100 shots and still won twice. So it might be good to look back at those two games because, if the Gophers want to win another Cup, they need to start sweeping conference teams again.
They have only one conference sweep this season.
Here is the story from the first game 16 months ago:
By ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ
Star Tribune Staff Writer
DULUTH - The first conference game of the Gophers' season had a bit of everything. When it ended, the Gophers had a thrilling victory.
The Gophers scored two last-minute goals -- one in the third period, the other in overtime -- to edge Minnesota Duluth 5- 4 on Friday in the WCHA opener for both teams.
UMD, of course, is the defending NCAA champion and was playing at Amsoil Arena in front of 6,751 hometown fans.
"We never had any doubt in ourselves," said Nate Condon, who scored the game-winner with 56 seconds left in overtime.
"You've got to get lucky every now and then. I came off the bench and luckily no one saw me and [Taylor] Matson threw the puck right to me."
Once over the boards on his last shift, Condon skated directly to the UMD net. Matson, the Gophers captain, fed him the puck in the slot, but it wasn't a routine play.
Condon blocked the puck with one of his skates and it popped up.
"I swung at it out of the air," the sophomore winger said. "And it kind of went in. I didn't even see it go in."
Kent Patterson, his road roommate, probably did. The Gophers senior goalie was seeing every puck. He stopped a career-high 46 shots.
Even so, it looked as if Patterson would be the losing goalie until Erik Haula scored with 44 seconds left in the third period to tie the score at 4- 4.
"Once Haula got that goal, there was nothing that was going to stop us," Condon said. "Everyone felt great on the bench. Everyone was in great shape. We just battled there to the end."
There were 94 shots on net in the game and 25 penalties.
"It was a fast-paced game," Condon said, "but more than anything I thought there were bodies laying everywhere. Duluth tried to come out and tear us down physically and we answered it and even gave them a couple licks of our own."
The No. 14 Gophers (3-0) took a 2-0 lead in the opening period on power-play goals by Haula and Kyle Rau, who like Haula had two goals.
"The guys we need to score, scored," Gophers coach Don Lucia said.
But UMD stormed back in the second period to tie the score twice at 2-2 and 3-3.
"Once they scored we got a little jittery," Lucia said, citing several reasons: Young players feeling the pressure of their first big-time road game, returning to a smaller rink and a group of freshmen and sophomores with not a lot of experience in the rigors of the WCHA.
Freshman Justin Crandall gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 4-3 with two minutes left in the third period to set up the dramatic finish.
"We probably won the game because of our specialties," Lucia said. "We only gave up the one [power-play goal] and scored three. And that is something we tried to emphasize."
Once the game went into overtime, that seemed to favor No. 9 UMD (1-2). The Bulldogs were 13-3-15 in their past 31 overtime games before Friday.
But Patterson stopped three more shots in overtime.
"They had 50 shots, which is more than I had in two games last weekend," said Patterson, referring to his two shutout victories over Sacred Heart. "But I like [these] games. It keeps me on my toes the whole time. My job is to stop the puck."
And he's good at it.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs had 50 shots again, the Gophers only 16, but the score and the winner were the same. Here is that story:
Gophers gut out a sweep
By ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ
Star Tribune Staff Writer
DULUTH - Talented teams find different ways to win.
On Saturday, the unbeaten Gophers' strategy against Minnesota Duluth for half the game seemed to be to make every shot count.
The Gophers had four goals on their first six shots en route to a stunning 5- 4 victory over the defending NCAA champions at Amsoil Arena before a sellout crowd of 6,784. That was the same score the Gophers won by on Friday in overtime.
But the rematch was a completely different game. UMD, not the Gophers, took a 2-0 lead in the second game and outshot the visitors 50-16.
Gophers goalie Kent Patterson, after stopping a career-high 46 shots the first night, tied his record the second night.
"I knew coming in it was going to be a long night," Patterson said, "especially after [Friday] night, going through all those shots. You just got to mentally prepare for each game individually and break it down minute by minute."
Said Gophers coach Don Lucia: "Our specialties won us the weekend. Our specialties and our goaltender -- when you score six power-play goals [three each game]."
Freshman Kyle Rau's goal midway through the third period gave the No. 14 Gophers ( 4-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) a 5-2 lead, a cushion they would need.
Caleb Herbert of UMD scored with 8:22 to play in the final period, J.T. Brown with 5:05 left as the Bulldogs crept within 5- 4. UMD pulled Kenny Reiter, their goalie, with 80 seconds and kept the pressure on Patterson until the final horn.
Patterson stopped 18 shots in the third period, sending No. 9 UMD (1-3-0, 0-2-0) to its third loss in a row.
UMD certainly started well. Travis Oleksuk scored in the first minute and Jack Connolly in the eighth minute on a five-on-three power-play. Defenseman Brady Lamb nearly made it 3-0, but his shot clanged off a post.
Then the improbable happened: The Gophers, outshot 18- 4 in the first period, tied the score before the period ended.
Jake Hansen scored from the high slot on a Gophers power play in the 13th minute. Nate Condon, who had an overtime goal Friday, got the Gophers' second goal in the 17th minute on a shot that went wide.
The puck caromed off the endboards in front of Reiter in the slot. Bulldogs defenseman Chris Casto either tried to pass the puck back to his goalie or inadvertently struck it. Either way, it found the net and Condon was credited with an unassisted goal.
"The critical moment of the game was [when] we got our first power play and [Hansen] scored," Lucia said. "Our power play is very confident right now. We were 3-for-3 on it, and we kind of battled our way back."
The Gophers took a 3-2 lead at 1:10 of the second period when Nick Bjugstad eluded a defenseman, then deked Reiter. Condon's second goal of the game, on a power play, made it 4-2 in the middle of the second.
Rau's goal midway through the third period, on a rebound from the right side of the net, proved to be the game-winner. It also continued a highly positive Gophers streak; they have at least one goal in every period this season.
"We're young; we made a lot of mistakes this weekend," Patterson said, "but like Coach [Lucia] was saying, we'd rather learn from our mistakes off a win than a loss."