SPORTS COMMENTARY: Gophers handled moment better than before
ST. PAUL The puck took a crazy bounce off the back wall and popped right out front to North Dakota's Danny Kristo. It must have hit a stanchion or something because it really took a screwy carom that caught everyone by surprise. And in that brief...
The puck took a crazy bounce off the back wall and popped right out front to North Dakota's Danny Kristo. It must have hit a stanchion or something because it really took a screwy carom that caught everyone by surprise.
And in that brief second the beginning of a great collective yelp could be detected. It was part anticipation, part despair. When Kristo flicked the puck past Gopher goalie Kent Patterson, it became a full-fledged roar.
Minnesota was up 2-0 at the time and doing absolutely everything right. Coach Don Lucia couldn't have asked for more to that point early in the second period. Then this crazy thing happened. What was everyone supposed to make of it?
"Yeah," Gopher center Nick Bjugstad said. "That was a different kind of bounce."
Suddenly, folks were left to wonder if it was going to be that kind of night. Sometimes a team can do almost everything well and still end up on the short end because a hockey puck does funny things. If the hockey gods are against you, well, it's simply curtains. Afterward, even several of the Gophers admitted to a brief flirtation with "uh, oh."
"Our next shift was going to be very important," captain Taylor Matson said. "We had to go back to work. It was sort of a freaky goal. But that's the thing about hockey: There's always weird bounces."
Yes, in their previous matchup against North Dakota, in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament semifinal, the Gophers coughed up a big lead. Their downfall was
accelerated in that game after an odd goal caromed in off a set of shin pads.
"That was a good one," winger Kyle Rau said with a smile. "The last time we played them, they scored a fluky goal off a shin pad. We were not going to let that affect us again."
"It's all about how you handle it," defenseman Nate Schmidt noted.
Maybe the Gophers didn't handle it so well the last time. But this time they handled it great, flying around on the very next shift and reasserting themselves as the
dominant team. They stretched their lead back to two goals not long after. Then they worked it to three goals before the end of the period, Eventually, they skated off with a 5-2 victory over their archrivals and a berth in the Frozen Four, which will be held in that hotbed of hockey, Tampa, Fla.
"I'm happy to go there," Schmidt grinned. "I'll go there any time."
It's hard to envision the Gophers playing much better than they did on Sunday, March 25. They were terrific at moving the puck around. They almost always were stationed where they were supposed to be. And they won every race to loose pucks. If they can play at that level in Tampa, they will win the championship. There's no question. Their performance against a talented, hard-working North Dakota team was that impressive.
To their credit, the Gophers seem to realize exactly where they stand. Although it's standard fare to give lip service to the notion of always being able to play better, they clearly understood that they had just played at a higher level than ever before this season. Several players noted they probably couldn't do much better than that, although they certainly would try.
"We're peaking right now, I feel," Bjugstad said.
They are peaking right in front of our eyes. In the third period, they might have backed off just a little. After all, they had a good-sized lead. The only time there was any doubt about the outcome was after North Dakota's first goal. And even then it was more a question about karma instead of about ability and determination.
"I think the difference was the second period where they took advantage of some momentum after we went 2-1," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. "Had we been able to push that to a 2-2 game or take a one-goal game into the third period, it would have been much different."
The Gophers wrested momentum back immediately after that bizarre score. They kept it all the way through. If they can bottle it and take it to Tampa, they will be celebrating a title.
Distributed by MCT Information Services