Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The Gophers drew a penalty midway through the first period Friday. In a game they would lose 4-1 to Wisconsin.
The Badgers are plain awful on the penalty kill, about 75 percent. It was scoreless when Matt Paape was called for hooking. Here was a chance for the Gophers to take an early lead.
But the power play did virtually nothing. Two 50-foot shots by defensemen Nate Schmidt and Ben Marshall were blocked. Nobody else took a shot and that was the only man-advantage the Gophers would have.
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves obviously told his troops: No penalties. The Badgers were called for three more penalties but, in all three instances, a Gophers player went in the box at the same time.
For at least 20-30 seconds of the power play, it was actually 5-on-3 1/2 players because one Badger had lost his stick.
The Gophers outshot UW 27-20, but that was a deceiving statistic. The home team only had seven shots from in "the house," the area beneath the circles up to the net.
Their best chance, with the score 3-0 Badgers in the second period, didn't even turn into a shot on goal. Freshman Seth Ambroz had the puck on the right side, in-tight, with the goalie out a little bit. So basically he had an open net, tap-in if he played his angle right.
But he hit the puck square and set it straight across the crease. Oh my. He will have nightmares about the play.
The bottom line is, the Gophers had to play much more aggressive. They had to go hard to the net to force the Badgers to take penalties. They didn't.
Freshman Joel Rumpel had a shutout until Nico Sacchetti redirected a shot by defenseman Jake Parenteau with 62 seconds to play. Rumpel made 26 saves, but few were difficult.
* The three stars of the game were all Badgers:
No. 1 star Mark Zengerle, one goal, three assists ... just one shot on goal, plus-2
No. 2 star Ryan Little, one goal, one assist ... he scored Badgers' second goal, the game-winner as it turned out
No. 3 star Joel Rumpel, 26 saves ... he had shutout until nearly the last minute
DEADLY POWER PLAY
The Badgers had three power plays, two in the second period and one in the third. They only got three shots on them but scored twice.
* The Badgers blocked 19 shots -- the Gophers 14. Defenseman Jake McCabe had five of the those blocks for UW.
* Despite their loss, the Gophers remained No. 7 in the all-important PairWise ratings
* Two of the best-of-three, first-round WCHA pairings are set:
Alaska Anchorage (12) at Gophers (1)
Minnesota State Mankato (11) at Minnesota Duluth (2)
??? at Denver (3)
??? at North Dakota (4)
There is one weekend left of regular-season conference games. If the season were over, the first-round WCHA playoff schedule would be:
Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota ... rematch of last year when the Seawolves swept the Gophers at Mariucci
Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth ... Purple Mavericks three points out of 10th place. Unlikely to move up.
Bemidji State at Denver ... Beavers have struggled of late after good stretch in middle of season
Wisconsin at North Dakota ... Fighting Sioux finishing strong. Looking like NCAA tournament team
St. Cloud State at Colorado College ... two skating teams on big ice
Michigan Tech at Nebraska Omaha ... Tech just one point behind UNO and CC, so this could easily change
If the Gophers finish second outright in the WCHA -- they can't finish any lower than that -- they would probably face the purple Mavericks (MSU Mankato) at Mariucci in the first round. That would be a much tougher matchup than UAA.
Next weekend, the Gophers host Wisconsin, coming off a sweep at Bemidji St., while UMD, a good road team, plays at St. Cloud State.
The Gophers have won 12 MacNaughton Cups. Four regular-season conference titles came in the 1980s. The others two per decade. Here is a rundown:
1950s: '53 and '54
1960s: shut out
1970s: '70, '75
1980s: '81, '83, '88, '89
1990s: '92, '97
2000s: '06, '07
2010s: none so far
* The only plus players for the Gophers on Saturday were Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Nate Schmidt, all plus-1. Nico Sacchetti and Nate Condon were minus-2.
* Freshman goalie Ryan Massa of UNO only had two saves before he was pulled with the Mavs trailing 2-1 at 9:20 of the first period after golas by Mark Alt and Rau
* Rau led the Gophers with four shots on goal, Alt had three
* Derek Shepherd and Marco Hunt were the referees. They only called three penalties on the Gophers, six on UNO.
* Schmidt had assists on the Gophers' first two goals, raising his season total to 30. ... Erik Haula had assists on Rau's two power-play goals, which gives Haula 23 helpers.
* CenturyLink Center does not provide shot charts ... but UNO hit at least one pipe on Saturday. Joe Krause's shot created a big clang sound with just over eight minutes to play in the middle period.
RAU HEATING UP
Until scoring two goals on Saturday, Rau only had two in 11 games since competing in the World Juniors over the holidays.
Now Rau has a six-game points streak, with three goals and five assists for eight points in that stretch.
He scored two goals in the Gophers' third game of the season -- a 5-4 overtime victory at UMD -- but has not had another two-goal game until last night.
"I was happy with the way we played," Gophers coach Don Lucia said after his team's 4-1 victory over Bemidji State on Saturday. "Erik's line got rewarded [Saturday]. They were very good [Friday] even though they did not show up on the scoresheet. When we watched the video, they made a lot of great plays in the offensive zone. There was just no reward."
Erik Haula scored two goals and linemate Jake Hansen one on Saturday. Both had one assist, too. Those two and left wing Sam Warning were all plus-2 for the game and combined for 14 shots on goal. Hansen had nine, Haula four and Warning one.
"[Saturday] they got rewarded," Lucia said, referring to his second line. "They led the way offensively like Bjugey's line led the way [Friday] night. It was a difficult game like we expected. Bemidji came out and played extremely hard [Saturday]. Fortunately we were able to play with the lead, but you never felt safe in the game."
After Haula's second goal at 7:07 of the second period gave the Gophers a 3-1 lead, neither team scored until Seth Ambroz got an empty-netter with 1:33 left.
Lucia called it a great weekend, with his present team getting a sweep and the 2002 NCAA championship team returning. "It was a special group and I am glad we were able to get the win in front of them," said Lucia, who coached that team to a national title in his third year at Minnesota.
"What I liked about what our guys did [Saturday]," Lucia said. "[was] it was a difficult weekend in Denver last week, but we talked about how important it is to move on. And the guys, mentally and physically were able to do that and get four big points this week.
"We had great success within our state this year, and that was something we talked about when the year began."
The Gophers finished 9-1 against the other four in-state Division I programs. St. Cloud State got the only victory against the Gophers, beating them 4-3 on Nov. 18 at the National Hockey Center.
BOUNCE BACK WEEKEND
"Sunday morning after Denver it definitely stung," Patterson said, referring to the Gophers getting swept by DU 5-3 and 4-3 in overtime."But anything with a win or a loss, you just have to take it that night, but the next morning you have to brush it off and come ready to battle the next practice.
"We definitely re-established ourselves and proved what our identity should be and the way we should play game in and game out."
* On BSU's only goal of the weekend, late in the first period Saturday by defenseman Brad Hunt from the high slot: "It was a great shot. I have to give him credit. I just kind of froze up a little bit on my glove side. Just a little mental lapse on my part."
* On whether players do any scoreboard watching: "We actually got a few of the updates --it is great to see [second place UMD tied, third place Denver lost]. But during the game, we just focus on our game. We don't worrry about [other games]."
* Patti Bjorklund, after 29 seasons as the administrative assistant in the Gophers hockey office, is retiring. She was honored before Saturday's game and dropped a puck for a ceremonial pre-game faceoff.
"When I got hired [here]," Lucia said, "I told her my goal was to be here longer than you, Patti, because you have retired a few coaches in your day.But she is a sweetheart and just loved Gophers hockey."
THE DON SAYS
* On how tough a game hockey can be: "That is not a foam rubber puck they are getting hit with. It hurts. [Saturday] there were a lot of ice bags in the training room as there should [be] if you expect to win."
Ten years ago, Erik Haula knew nothing about Minnesota --"definitely not" -- let alone the Golden Gophers hockey team which won the NCAA title in 2002.
"I was all focused on Finland, not knowing anything that was going on here," said Haula, a sophomore center from Pori, Finland. "It is weird how things happen."
But 13 members of that championship team a decade ago were at Mariucci Arena on Saturday, including two U of M coach Grant Potulny and Justin Johnson. They signed autographs before the game, and were introduced to do the sellout crowd of 10,000-plus between the first and second period of the Gophers game with Bemidji State.
The Gophers won 4-1, with Haula scoring twice and assisting on one goal.
Now, Haula knows about the Gophers' rich hockey tradition. "As I was making my decision coming here, I probably watched that video of the '02 championship 10 times because my buddy from Shattuck who is from Eden Prairie had it."
He said it was nice to see the 2002 players in person this weekend. "And obviously, we wanted to play great in front of them," Haula said.
The Gophers swept the Beavers after winning the first game 3-0 on Friday.
"[The sweep] was huge," Haula said. "It is all about us. Everything is in our hands. We just keep winning, we just keep playing great and we can accomplishment everything we want to here."
To keep winning, the Gophers will need the scoring balance they showed this weekend.
On Friday, everyone on the first line had two points. On Saturday, Haula and linemate Jack Hansen had the big games. Haula had three points, Hansen two.
"Good teams have guys stepping up,: said Haula, a seventh-round draft pick of the Wild in 2009. "[Friday] night, they had a big night and [Saturday] we were able to put some in. You know we have a good team and we have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net. We don;t have to rely on just one line."
* Haula, bothered by an upper body injury played left wing on the second or third line last weekend at Denver. But he was back at his usual position, center, for the Beavers series. "Everything is taken care of now," he said, everything is good. I am back at it."
GOPHERS' TOP SCORERS
Nick Bjugstad 22 14 -- 36
Erik Haula 14 21 -- 35
Kyle Rau 14 17 -- 31
Nate Schmidt 2 27 -- 29
Jake Hansen 11 18 -- 29
Zach Budish 10 17 -- 27
Nate Condon 10 14 -- 24
Zach Budish said he has been coming to Mariucci Arena's weight room in the morning the last month to ride a stationary bike. "To get a little extra workout and drop a few pounds," he said, "and to get ready for the stretch here."
After beating Bemidji State 3-0 on Friday, the first-place Gophers have only five WCHA games left.
"I think it is working," Budish said, a 6-3 redshirt sophomore referring to his extra workouts. "Obviously, I have played well the last couple of weekends."
Budish only had six goals until last weekend in Denver, when he scored once in both of the Gophers' losses. Those goals were not exactly pretty. The one on Friday went in off one of his skates. The referees spent a long time reviewing the play to make sure he did not kick the puck in deliberately.
His goal a week ago Saturday went in while he and a DU defenseman fought for the puck just outside the crease. "I think he tipped it in," Budish said.
"I feel a little lighter out there," said Budish, whose goals against the Beavers were his ninth and 10th of the season. "I don't know if that [the bike work] is 100 percent it. But I think it has helped a little bit. And anything you can do to improve your game a little bit, whether it is on or off the ice, I think you have to do it."
Bjugstad said he weighs 212, 211 now. "I have dropped about a pound a week," he said. "Nothing too crazy. Those three or four pounds have helped improve my foot speed."
His hockey career in recent years has not gone quite like he envisioned.
Three seasons ago, he missed the high school hockey season as a senior at Edina because of ACL surgery on his left knee after a football injury. Last season he missed most of his Gophers' season after the same surgery on his other knee after a moped accident.
"I have matching scars," Budish said. "ACL surgery is a pretty major deal, so it takes a while. You get cleared to play after seven months or so. But it's really until nine months to a year before you feel 100 percent and you have all that strength back. I think i have gotten better here in the second half. And it is just good to win [Friday]."
Lucia said it is easy -- and hard -- to play with good players like Budish has done throughout this season. His center is Nick Bjugstad, who scored his 22nd goal on Friday. The other wing is Kyle Rau, a freshman with 14 goals.
"It is hard because you have to play at a high level, too," Lucia said. "You've got to keep the chain going."
That last phrase, in Budish's case, carries double meaning because of his extra bike work recently. "It gives you better legs late in the game," Lucia said. "It gives you better legs the second night [of a series]."
RAU HAPPY FOR LINEMATE
"[Zach] had a good weekend last weekend and he is carrying it over," Rau said. "It is nice. Hopefully, he keeps going the rest of the year.
"He is a crucial part to [our line]. He grinds it down low for me and Bjuger and opens up some space for us and buries some pucks. He has a good shot."
So has Budish been downcast that his two linemates had double and triple the number of goals he had until his four-goal outbutst the last three games? "No, I think he has been happy that we have been having success as a line. That's all that matters for him," Rau said. "I was excited for him [Friday]. That was fun to watch."
"[Rau] is on a tear right now," Bjugstad said. "He is getting his confidence and he is shooting the puck a lot. He is big and around the net he just finds that puck and he can outmuscle guys
"The first half of the year he was just a passer, but now he is figuring it out that he can shoot as well as anyone. He has great accuracy, a really hard shot. He snaps it off really quick."
* Lucia and on his team not getting a single penalty on Friday for the first time this season: "Last Saturday [against Denver] we took three penalties in the third period and it ultimately cost us two goals and maybe a chance to win a game." Denver rallied for a 4-3 victory in overtime.
"The guys did a good job [Friday]. I thought we played hard, I thought we played physical, but we played smart, too."
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