Throughout the first nine games of the season, the Gophers men's hockey team used tight defense, outstanding goaltending and timely scoring to fashion a 9-0 record and ascend to the top of the national polls. Monday night, the formula was quite different, but the result remained the same in a 6-4 victory over Arizona State to complete a nonconference sweep at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Mondays game might not have been a Picasso, though the fact that the Gophers could throw out a 'B-minus' game and still win is a positive sign. They made plenty of mistakes, including a couple of offensive zone penalties, and hung goalie Jared Moe out to dry a few times. And the fact that they weren't demoralized by the incredible, lacrosse-style goal by Johnny Walker that gave the Sun Devils a 3-2, second-period lead spoke volumes.
"The rally back was pretty important for us,'' said Blake McLaughlin, whose first goal of the season gave the Gophers the lead for good after Sampo Ranta's laser shot tied it 3-3 only 1:31 after Walker's goal. "When you see a goal like that, it lights a fire under you.''
The next test for the Gophers is a road matchup against talent-laden Wisconsin, their nearest pursuer in the Big Ten, on Saturday and Sunday in Madison.
U.S. going for gold
If you haven't been paying attention to the World Junior Championship, you're missing out. The tournament featuring the best under-20 hockey players has been must-see TV , as usual, and Monday night's scintillating semifinal between the United States and Finland was the latest example.
Team USA took a 3-1 lead into the third period, only to see the gritty Finns knot the score with 3:43 left in the third period. Overtime looked likely, until Alex Turcotte spotted a wide-open Arthur Kaliyev in the Finnish zone.
"I saw himwide open, which usually is never really an option because everyone knows how good of a goal-scorer he is,'' said. "My eyes lit up and just ripped it to him,and he had an unbelievable shot.''
Kaliyev ripped the shot over goalie Kari Piiroinen's glove with 1:16 left, giving the U.S. a 4-3 victory and a spot in Tuesday night's final against Canada (8:30 p.m., NHL Network).
You have a chance to see five Minnesotans – the Gophers trio of Brock Faber, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe, plus Minnetonka's Bobby Brink, Farmington's Drew Helleson and Wild prospect Matt Boldy – go for the gold.
Encore for Huskies, Bulldogs
The Saturday-Sunday men's series between No. 4 Minnesota Duluth and No. 6 St. Cloud State more than lived up to its billing. The Bulldogs won a tight contest in the opener, with Kobe Roth knotting the score 3-3 in the third period and Noah Cates winning it in three-on-three overtime. The Huskies turned the tables in the finale, winning 3-1 behind two goals and an assist from freshman VeetiMiettinen and giving coach Brett Larson his 50th career victory.
Want more of this dogfight? The teams meet again Friday and Saturday in Duluth.
Gophers women stay patient
You've got to feel for Brad Frost and his Gophers women's hockey team. Because of COVID-19 issues with opponents, the Gophers have been able to play only six games this season. Minnesota is 5-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally after a split with No. Ohio State and a sweep of No. 6 Minnesota Duluth in November, and a sweep of Minnesota State Mankato on Dec. 10-11. The latest postponement was the Monday-Tuesday series against UMD. With fingers crossed, the Gophers have three games against St. Cloud State this week: Thursday and Saturday at Ridder Arena and Sunday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Dryden's perfect weekend
Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine leads the nation in wins (nine), goals-against average (1.00) and save percentage (.965), but there's someone right on his heels. Minnesota State's Dryden McKay posted back-to-back shutouts at Northern Michigan over the weekend, giving him four shutouts (tied for the national lead with Providence's Jaxson Stauber, who transferred from Minnesota State). McKay's 1.01 GAA ranks second and his .953 save percentage is fifth.