There are defining moments in every hockey season. Friday night in Omaha, Neb., looks like one for the Gophers right now.
Two weeks ago today, the Gophers blew a winnable game at Denver. The Pioneers scored a late power-play goal to tie and won in overtime. It was the Gophers' second overtime loss in conference play.
On Friday, the Gophers found themselves in OT again, on the road. This time they prevailed in the most unlikely fashion. Sophomore defenseman Jake Parenteau, playing in his 38th game -- 30 this season -- scored the first goal of his career. It was a long shot from the point.
He got it on net and later insisted he was trying to score. But Ryan Massa, the UNO freshman goalie, had stopped much tougher, much closer chances than Parenteau's blast. He just didn't see it because of the traffic in front of him.
The win enabled the Gophers to maintain a two-point lead over UMD. Both teams have three regular-season games left. The Bulldogs have the home-ice this weekend. They beat Colorado College 4-3 in OT at Amsoil Arena last night.
Next weekend, the Gophers get to play at home. Wisconsin visits. UMD has to go on the road -- although not too far -- to St. Cloud State.
If the Gophers and the Bulldogs tie for the title, they would be co-champions but the 'U' would be the top seed going into the conference playoffs.
Here is what the WCHA says about that: "Should two teams deadlock for the top spot, they will be declared co-champions and the No. 1 tournament seed would be decided using the league's tie-breakers."
The first tie-breaker in the WCHA is head-to-head competition. The Gophers played at UMD in the first conference series of the season on Oct. 14-15. The Gophers won the first gamer 5-4 in overtime and the second game 5-4 in regulation. So they hold the tiebreaker.
That first win over UMD was the Gophers' first signature win of the season. The Bulldogs, of course, came into the season as the NCAA champions.
UMD took a 4-3 lead with two minutes to play. But the Gophers rallied. Erik Haula, with goalie Kent Patterson pulled for an extra attacker, scored with 44 seconds to play. Then, in the last minute of overtime, Nate Condon got the game-winner with 56 seconds left.
The Gophers other huge win this season -- before Friday -- came at Mariucci Arena. The setup: the Gophers beat archrival North Dakota 2-0 on Nov. 4, but the second game was tied 2-2 until Kyle Rau's goal with 46 seconds left. So the Gophers won for a series sweep and gave the fans a stick salute.
It was a just result; the Gophers outshot the Fighting Sioux 42-19.
Friday's win was a third turning point. Again on the road. It gave the Gophers their third win in a row and kept their momentum going into the playoffs. And it came after the Gophers fell behind 2-1 after two periods.
The Gophers now are:
2-2-1 in overtime games
19-6-1 when scoring three goals or more
8-9-0 in one-goal games
2-7-1 when trailing after two periods
3-2-0 in the month of February