Gophers Lose, But Win at Least a Share of McNaughton Cup
By Thom Wynn

Wisconsin came to town tonight and played nearly flawless hockey, walking away with a 4-1 win over fifth ranked Minnesota at Mariucci Arena in a generally lifeless effort by the Gophers hockey squad in front of the home crowd.

Both teams came out early and tried to establish the physical play, with Minnesota getting the better of the hitting as Mark Alt and Seth Helgeson laid a couple of the better hits of the year on the Badgers in the first fifteen minutes of the game. But that's about all the positive that the Gophers were able to muster tonight, as Wisconsin frustrated Minnesota at every turn. WIsconsin controlled play in their own zone the entire night, tying up the Gopher skaters, and giving them very little room to move. Minnesota could have learned a thing or two from the Badgers, as it was not tying up the Wisconsin player that cost them the first goal of the game when Eagan native Tyler Barnes out-battled the Gophers Mark Alt in front of the Minnesota net, and scored on a rebound with just two minutes left in the first period.

Wisconsin carried the momentum over into the second and made it 2-0 a little over five minutes into the period after Ben Marshall whiffed on a clearing attempt, and it was promptly deposited in the net by the Badgers Ryan Little, as he used a screen in front by Barnes to wrist one over the shoulder of Gopher goalkeeper Kent Patterson. Michael Mersche then got a gift goal on the power play to make it 3-0 Wisconsin halfway through the second period, as Patterson took the initial shot high in the chest, and thought he had the puck trapped. Unfortunately for the Gopher goaltender, the puck had dropped to the ice and was laying near his feet as Mersche easily swatted it home.

Mark Zengerle finally delivered the dagger, when he picked up the puck in his own end and went coast to coast, walking through defenseman Seth Helgeson in the Gopher zone before whipping a shot stick side past Patterson for the 4-0 lead. That was the backbreaker for Minnesota, and spelled the end for Patterson. He would finish out the period, but after playing every minute of every (non-exhibition) game this season, Patterson would be on the bench to start the third period as Mike Shibrowski entered to finish out the game. Shibrowski was never really tested as he turned away all five shots that he faced. Patterson surrendered four goals on fifteen shots in his two periods of play.

The Gophers were able to avoid the shutout late in the final frame, when Jake Parenteau got the feed from down in the corner, moved toward the middle looking for an open shooting lane, and ripped a shot that was tipped home by Nico Sacchetti (3) between the pads of UW's Joel Rumpel, cutting the Gopher deficit to three at 4-1 with just over a minute left in the game. But it was too little, too late at that point, as Minnesota fell by that same score of 4-1.

After the game, Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia offered a very simple and straight forward answer in explaining his team's loss, saying "They were the better team. They beat us in every phase of the game tonight, and we just didn't do enough to give ourselves a chance to win".

Despite losing to the Badgers, Minnesota still won a share of the WCHA title, as St. Cloud State took out UMD 2-1 at the National Ice Center in St. Cloud. The Gophers (23-12-1, 19-8-0 WCHA) will have a chance to redeem themselves and split the season series Saturday night, as they take on the Badgers (16-15-2, 11-14-2 WCHA) once again at Mariucci Arena. Game time is 7:00 PM (Central), with the game broadcast on Fox Sports North-PLUS.