"I told [my players] going in, 'We are only six points out of third' even though where we are at. It's a long season. Some guys are starting to grow," Gophers coach Don Lucia said after Saturday's 6-2 victory over Minnesota State in Mankato. "But the frustrating thing for us coaches has been how we can play so well one night and so abysmal another.
"For this team to take another step. We got to play like we did [Saturday] in back-to-back nights. Our goaltending was good all weekend long. They gave up two each night. Even Alex, after the second one I told him, 'Your job is to give up two. If you give up two, no matter how they go in, you've done your job.' It was nice to see he was able to keep two."
(Whoa. What The Don just said goes against everything I've always learned about goalies. Their job is to stop the easy and routine shots and as many of the difficult ones as they can. And sometimes you need to stand on your head and shut a team out or give up just one goal.
(To be quite honest, the goal Alex gave up reminded me of a night in St. Cloud two years ago. Jeff Frazee gave up a weak goal from midice and almost a second long one, but time had expired in the first period. After that game, Frazee never played again.
(Giving up weak goals can demoralize a team. The Don seems to be sending a strange message to his top goalie.)
"We scored some separation goals [Saturday] and that is something we have had a hard time doing all year long," The Don said. "If we score one [goal], Alex gives up that goal, we lose 2-1 and that's the way it has gone all year for us.
"Guys went to the net. We did some things we haven't been doing and we have been preaching these guys to do. It was nice to see some freshmen score their first goals. Hopefully that will make them relax a little bit more. it's always nice to get that first one out of the way.
"There were a lot of good things [Saturday] but we have to learn to do that night in and night out."
* On being outscored 1-0 and outshot 13-7 in the second period: "Penalties got us into trouble. They took away some of our momentum that we had. We wanted to play the game five-on-five."
* On Nico Sacchetti's goal in third period which gave U 4-2 lead: "Getting that fourth goal, we took a step and they sagged a little bit off that fourth goal. That's a separation goal that's been so difficult for this team to score all season long."
* On this team: "it's rewarding and frustratring this group. It's rewarding when you show them and talk to them on Saturday and they come back and play. But it's frustrating to come out and play like we did Friday night and not give ourselves a chance. That's the frustrating part. Hopefully at some point they can figure it out."
* On final series at Michigan Tech before holiday break: "We have a couple big games coming up. If we can have a succesful weekend, we are not that far out of it even though we -- I don't want to use the word I want to use -- have kind of given away some games."
* On Josh Birkholz: "Birkholz had two nice highlight reel goals. He's come close the last month. You can see his game starting to elevate week by week."
* On Nick Leddy, playing his second game after coming back from a broken jaw: "Nick was a lot better [Saturday]. That was a hard game for him [Friday]. Any time you come back from an injury, the first game back you are a little tentative. It's natural and you could see that [Saturday] he was much more relaxed."
Troy Jutting, Minnesota State coach: "Early on we had maybe three, four guys going at the pace they are capable of going and the other guys were off a little bit. Some of that is a credit to Minnesota. Some of that is you know -- you have to be more prepared."
Minnesota State Mankato sports information's slightly edited game story:
Minnesota scored the first three goals of the game in cruising to a 6-2 win over Minnesota State in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game played in Mankato Saturday night.
Minnesota got an unassisted goal from Nick Leddy at 6:22 and then Josh Birkholz tallied his first two career goals, one at 8:35 and the other at 14-20 in jumping out to a 3-0 first-period lead. MSU freshman Tyler Pitlick’s deflection of a shot from Ben Youds shot past Alex Kangas at 15:49 made it 3-1 before the end of the period.
Pitlick scored his second goal of the game at 11:11 of the second period when Kangas was fooled by a soft shot from 30 feet out as the Mavericks cut the lead to 4-2. (Oops, that was 3-2.)
Third period goals by Nico Siacchetti, Patrick White and Taylor Matson completed the Gopher scoring.
Minnesota, which went zero-for-three in power plays on the night, outshot MSU by a 32-22 margin. The Mavericks were zero-for-four with the man advantage in the loss.
Minnesota ups its record to 6-9-1 overall, 4-7-1 WCHA, while the Mavericks fall to 7-8-1 overall, 5-8-1 WCHA.
MSU plays at Bemidji State next Friday and Saturday in a pair of nonconference contests in its next action.
U of M TAKE
Universitry of Minnesota sports information's slightly edited game story:
Three Minnesota players scored their first goals of the season as the Gophers bolted to an early three-goal lead and defeated Minnesota State 6-2 on Saturday in Mankato.
Freshman Josh Birkholz scored twice in the first period and fellow freshman Nick Leddy added the other of the Gophers’ first period goals as Minnesota avenged a 3-1 loss to the Mavericks from Friday night and snapped a three-game losing streak in the series. Taylor Matson also scored his first goal of the season in the third period to seal the victory.
The Gophers continued their solid Saturday night play with a 4-2-1 record compared to just 1-6 on Fridays. It was also a key conference win for the Gophers, who moved to 6-9-1 overall and 4-7-1 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Minnesota State had a three-game winning streak end and dropped to 7-8-1 overall and 5-8-1 in league play.
The two Gopher freshmen scored their first career goals just over two minutes apart in the opening period. Leddy notched a goal at the 6:22 mark on a long shot from the left point and Birkholz scored his first goal at the 8:35 mark. Birkholz’s goal came following a blocked shot from Kevin Wehrs, who picked up an assist on the play.
Birkholz scored his second goal in highlight-reel fashion, backhanding a high shot off a pass from Cade Fairchild. The goal came at the 14:20 mark and (gave the Gophers a three-goal lead which) lasted for just over a minute until Minnesota State tallied its first score. Pitlick scored the goal for the Mavericks with assists from Ben Youds and Tyler Elbrecht at the 15:49 mark.
Minnesota State got a freak goal in the second period to cut the lead to 3-2 when Gophers’ goaltender Alex Kangas misplayed a puck, allowing Pitlick to earn his second goal of the game at the 11:11 mark. Pitlick dumped the puck in and Kangas tried to clear it, but whiffed on the attempt. The Mavericks had three power plays in the period and held a 13-7 edge in shots.
The Gophers collected a key insurance goal to take a 4-2 lead at the 6:09 mark of the third period. Nico Sacchetti tipped in a long shot from Fairchild after Mike Carman started the play to also earn an assist. The goal came about a minute after Ryan Flynn ripped a shot off the crossbar from the top of the faceoff circle.
Minnesota tacked on two more goals just 32 seconds apart later in the period to build a 6-2 advantage. Patrick White scored the first, banging in a rebound of a shot by Nick Larson. Ryan Flynn also assisted on the play at 12:50 of the period. Matson netted his first goal of the season moments later, tipping in a long shot from Brian Schack. Matson’s goal chased Mavericks’ goaltender Austin Lee, who finished the night with 24 saves.
Minnesota held a 32-22 advantage in shots, including 9-3 in the third period. Kangas stopped 20 shots for the Gophers.
Neither team scored a power play goal with Minnesota getting three chances and Minnesota State having four man-advantage opportunities.
The Gophers conclude the first half of the season next weekend with a two-game series at Michigan Tech on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. (central time) both nights.