Messy opening stretch gives way to Gophers' lopsided defeat of UMD
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MINNEAPOLIS - One of the accepted clichés in hockey, especially when a team plays two good periods and loses, is that you need to play a 60-minute game to win. But when you're clicking on all cylinders, and playing at home, 50 minutes will sometimes do the trick.
The top-ranked Gophers hockey team played a messy first 10 minutes, getting out-shot by an opportunistic rival, with a goalie who was fighting the puck, and trailed 1-0 to Minnesota Duluth.
By the end of the Gophers' lopsided 6-1 win, those early struggles were akin to that first time you had a cavity filled as a kid - distant, unpleasant memories that meant very little in the long run.
"I thought in the first 10 minutes we came out and did what we needed to do," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "They're a good transition team and you have to kind of make it tough for them. But we forgot that there was another part of the game to play. They're good, and good teams capitalize."
Minnesota turned that 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead in seemingly the blink of an eye. Improving to 9-1-1, the Gophers did exactly what good teams are supposed to do at home, save for that bewildering early part of the first period.
"After the first timeout we talked about needing to get better," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "They were winning the races to loose pucks, they were the more assertive team and they were the better team at that point in the game."
Then six different Gophers scored, including gritty co-captain Kyle Rau, who hadn't gotten a goal since the season opener. It was a classic performance for the former Mr. Hockey winner, who is known for being an opponent-disrupting force on the ice, going to the net with reckless abandon, and getting under the other team's skin in many ways. He scored by ending a scramble in front of the Bulldogs net, swatting a loose puck past UMD goalie Aaron Crandall, who was pulled in the second period.
"That's when Kyle's at his best," Lucia said. "Kyle can do his talking to the opposing team, but he's got to guard that he doesn't take it too far where it takes him off his game."
Almost forgotten in the offensive onslaught was Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, who settled down after fighting the puck early while the Bulldogs controlled play, and quietly recorded a career-best 36 saves. They have played each other for generations, but with the Gophers now in the Big Ten and UMD in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, this was the first non-conference meeting between these in-state rivals in nearly 50 years. Still, these meetings are personal for Wilcox, the cousin of former Bulldogs star goalie Alex Stalock, who now skates for the NHL's San Jose Sharks.
"My mom and (Stalock's) mom always watch these games together. I can't imagine the households are too friendly after these," said Wilcox, who has never lost to the Bulldogs. "It's always fun. I'd go up and watch him play the Gophers, so it's always fun for the family to watch these games together."
Wilcox was especially sharp in the third period, when the Gophers killed a trio of UMD power plays and the goalie stopped 15 shots. Due to the Saturday afternoon football game, the Bulldogs returned to Duluth late Friday and will come back to Minneapolis to complete the weekend series on Sunday afternoon.
Not satisfied after a lopsided win, or perhaps harboring painful memories of those first 10 minutes, Lucia praised Wilcox, and called for a better team effort the next time out.
"(Wilcox) was good, and I think we relied a little bit too much on him," Lucia said. "We have to tighten some things up for the rematch on Sunday."
When you're undefeated at home in late November, and are winning going away without your best effort, even against a determined historical rival, it's the little things - like a nagging cavity - that get to you, apparently.