Myers: Inability to string together 60 full minutes bites Gophers
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MINNEAPOLIS - The concept of playing a "60-minute" game has become a worn and tired cliché in hockey circles. Failure to do so is an easy fall-back excuse, especially when you drop a game to a superior opponent.
"We need to play a full 60 minutes," the saying usually goes.
In recent weeks the Gophers had gotten away with something less than 60 minutes of hockey. They'd beaten Alaska Anchorage 4-3 two weeks ago thanks to a pair of power play goals in the waning minutes. They tied North Dakota last weekend, despite getting out-played for long stretches and again trailing by two goals late.
When you're as deep and as talented as these Gophers, you can often get away with a sub-60 effort. Especially at home.
Often, but not always.
Enter one of the WCHA's most pesky teams, the Mavericks of Minnesota State. Even though the visitors in black played roughly 50-minutes themselves, they held the Gophers normally-scary offense to just a goal, and got the last laugh of the night. Brett Knolwes, a Mavs freshman from British Columbia, scored just his second career collegiate goal in the final minute of a third period that the Gophers had otherwise dominated, as the "U" lost 2-1 at home for just the second time this season.
And this time, when the lack of a 60-minute effort was blamed, it didn't sound like a cliché.
"I really don't have an answer for you," said defenseman Nate Schmidt, when asked to pin-point the source of the malaise. Schmidt, who is rarely if ever at a loss for words, was stumped, although the theory of a letdown after last weekend's ultra-emotional final WCHA series with archrival North Dakota was bandied about. "There's no weekends off in the WCHA. With how good the league is this year, a team like Mankato is going to come in here and (win) if we have a lackluster first period, and that's what happened."
The Mavs, with first-year coach Mike Hastings (a former Gophers assistant) running the show, dominated offensively for 40 minutes, but emerged with just a 1-1 tie, after Schmidt's pretty back-door play and goal was countered by Johnny McInnis late in the second period. Then the Gophers became, well, the Gophers for a time. They'd mustered just 18 shots in the first two periods, but sent 20 at Mavs rookie goalie Stephon Williams in the third. They needed perhaps one more.
"We fought through a lot in that third period," Hastings said. "We were playing a lot on our heels and Minnesota showed why they're number one in the country. They put their foot to the floor and came after us in the third period. We handled it OK."
Gophers coach Don Lucia likes to preach that if you hold an opponent to two goals or fewer, you'll usually win.
Usually, but not always.
"I don't think we did enough to put ourselves in a position to win the game," Lucia said. "We did get a lot better. The third period was a good period and we had good surges, we had some good opportunities. We just couldn't get that next goal."
Depending on how things break on Saturday, the Gophers may still emerge from the weekend ranked number one in the nation. But after clawing their way to the top of the WCHA standings with a 10-game unbeaten run, it's a testament to the tight league race that one Friday night slip-up has them back in second, looking up at St. Cloud State, for now.
Seasons last five months. Games last 60 minutes. And on most nights, you have to play all 60 to win.