Myers: Thin 'U' defensemen crew holds on in tie with Boston College
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago at this time, Don Lucia's biggest challenge was finding a place to put all of his experienced defensemen. Needless to say, the Gopher hockey team has overcome that problem.
When senior Jake Parenteau left the game in the first period of Friday's 3-3 tie with Boston College, the Gophers blue line crew, which is heavy on talent but thin on experience - got just a little bit thinner
"I think he got jarred a little bit. We're hoping he can play Sunday so it's nothing that is going to be long term," Lucia said, after a game that counts as a tie, although the Gophers lost the exhibition shootout. "I thought our five D did a good job. In that situation you can't hide anybody from their guys. You've just got to play your five."
It's a far cry from a year ago, when Lucia started the season with as many as nine serviceable defensemen. He redshirted one, he moved another to the fourth line for a while, and made due with the "problem" of too much talent. Brady Skjei, a high draft pick of the New York Rangers, said thing have changed dramatically from that point, with the Gophers facing their toughest test of the season with just five defensemen.
"Last year you were fighting for a spot and now you're going every other shift, so it's a lot different," Skjei said. "But it's nice to get into the swing of things and roll the lines."
"Rolling" was an apt description for this game, which featured a bit of everything - quick goals, big saves, hard hits, crisp passing and even some controversy. The Gophers led 2-0 quickly and looked to blow out the Eagles for the second season in a row. Last January BC came to visit and left with an ugly 8-1 loss at the hands of Minnesota.
This time the Eagles captain calmed the team down, then let one of two Minnesotans on the BC roster go to work. Hobey Baker Award favorite Johnny Gaudreau - who led all skaters with seven shots on goal for the game - got the Eagles on the board. Then Michael Sit, an Edina native, scored twice, 11 seconds apart, to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead.
"Our captain, Pat Brown, called us together after they scored those two quick ones," said Sit, who had so many family members in attendance that they took a bus to the game. "We knew that they had a potent offense, but we just had to calm down and play our structure. Once we started playing a little organized hockey, we were able to move the puck up quick and get to their net."
Playing with five defenders after the Parenteau injury, the Gophers struggled to contain BC for stretches and the game resembled a high-tempo track meet.
"I can't remember the last time I was involved in that good a game this early in the season," Lucia said afterward.
Gophers rookie Taylor Cammarata tied the game in the second, and nearly won in in overtime but was thwarted by the other Minnesotan playing for BC. Cammarata's breakaway shot popped up and seemed to be fluttering toward the back of the Eagles net behind goalie Thatcher Demko before Faribault native Ian McCoshen, an Eagles freshman defenseman, swatted it out of the air. After a lengthy video review, the Big Ten officials ruled the puck had not crossed the goal line.
"I have just one good eye, so it's hard for me to see if it's not right in front of me," joked Eagles coach Jerry York, when asked what he saw on the play. "We give guys a belt if they make a breakaway save, and tonight we split it between Ian and Thatcher."
On the Minnesota blue line, Parenteau is one of two seniors. While Lucia is not lacking players eager to step up, his players admit that if a veteran is out, it will be a challenge.
"Losing Jake definitely will hurt, but we'll stick it out and he'll be back as soon as he can," Skjei said. "We'll have to step it up and once he's back we're right back on track."
Although on this night, with two talented teams playing entertaining end-to-end hockey, everything seemed to be on track already, even with just five healthy defensemen available for the Gophers.