Nathan Condon celebrating a Gophers goal (photo courtesy of Paul Rovnak)

Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Sweeps Alaska-Anchorage With 3-1 Win Saturday

After suffering their first loss of the season on Sunday, the Minnesota Golden Gophers resume WCHA play as they look to rebound against the team which ended their postseason hopes last season in the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. The two teams play Friday and Saturday night at 10 PM Central time with the games being broadcast live on ESPN 1500.

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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Beats Alaska-Anchorage 3-1; Sweep Seawolves To Take First Place In WCHA

With the year the Twin Cities sports and collegiate teams have had, it’s that much nicer to see one of them at the top of the standings.

Despite having their first four WCHA games on the road, Minnesota has won all four and the maroon and gold have been rewarded with sole possession of first place.The latest Gophers hockey victory, a 3-1 win over Alaska-Anchorage (3-4-1, 0-4-0 WCHA) Saturday night, was close as Minnesota (7-1-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) held onto an early lead and survived a late Seawolves charge.

The eighth-ranked Gophers dominated the opening period as they out-shot Anchorage 20-4. Goaltender Kent Patterson could have taken a nap during stretches as the team – especially the Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish line- moved the puck at will in the Seawolves zone.

Budish was eventually rewarded with the game’s first goal 10:54 into the game as he buried home a Bjugstad pass. However, it was the only goal the Gophers could muster past Seawolves goaltender Rob Gunderson in the opening twenty minutes. Gunderson, who made 29 saves, stood on his head at times and kept Anchorage in the game.

The Seawolves were able to gain momentum in the second period due to self-inflicted penalties by Minnesota but Nate Condon scored 4:03 into the period to make it 2-0 Gophers on the team’s first shorthanded goal this season. Condon created the opportunity through skill and hard work as he beat two Alaska-Anchorage defenders to the puck and roofed the puck past Gunderson on a breakaway for his fourth goal of the year.

However, Minnesota once again gave Alaska-Anchorage three power plays in a ten minute stretch and it ended up being a turning point in the game. The third penalty, a hooking call on sophomore Erik Haula, was the straw which broke the camel’s back as freshman Sam Mellor scored on the power play to make it 2-1 Minnesota.

Mellor’s goal broke Patterson’s 104:33 shutout streak, which dated back to Sebastian Stalberg’s goal on Sunday. It also gave the Seawolves confidence as they won the majority of the puck battles against a tired Gophers squad and put 14 shots on net.

Alaska-Anchorage’s grasp on the game continued in the third period as the Seawolves played their best hockey of the weekend and looked like the team which knocked Minnesota out of the postseason last year. They created odd-man rushes for themselves, cut down the Gophers’ cycling and puck movement and forced them to shoot from the perimeter.

Everything was going well for Anchorage, but unfortunately for them, the same was true for Patterson. Although the Seawolves only had nine shots on goal in the third period, each one counted and the junior goaltender came up big for Minnesota.

“I was expecting that with UAA,” Patterson said. “They’re a good team in the third period; especially in their own home.”

Alaska-Anchorage forward Mickey Spencer, who scored against Minnesota in March, came closest to tying the game with a tip-in midway through the third period. His deflection fooled the goal judge but ended up hitting the net and going wide

In the end, Kyle Rau was able to put the game out of reach for the Seawolves as the freshman forward scored on an empty net in the final minute for his seventh goal of the season. The 3-1 final gives Minnesota their third sweep of the season and while it wasn’t pretty at times, Gophers head coach Don Lucia summed it up best after the game:

“We’re 4-0 on the road in the WCHA and I think that’s the key stat above anything else.”

Next weekend, Minnesota returns home to Mariucci to face the twelfth-ranked and very loved hated University of North Dakota. Friday’s game starts at 7 PM and is broadcast on Fox Sports North while Saturday’s game starts at 7:30 and is broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

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Gophers Hockey: Kent Patterson Earns Fourth Shutout In 5-0 Win Over Alaska-Anchorage

After suffering their first loss of the season Sunday, Minnesota (6-1-0, 3-0-0 WCHA) rebounded by beating the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (3-3-1, 0-3-0 WCHA ) 5-0 Friday night. Kent Patterson earned his fourth shutout of the season (and it’s still October) for the Golden Gophers while Erik Haula led the way with two goals.

Minnesota looked like they learned from losing to Vermont as the Gophers dominated play in the first period and had no issues moving the puck. However they were not able to get past Seawolves goalie Chris Kamal until sophomore Zach Budish set up Haula’s sixth goal of the season with 1:59 left in the period.

Kyle Rau made it 2-0 8:14 into the second period as the freshman buried a Nick Bjugstad rebound. Rau now has five goals (out of seven) on the power play and Alaska-Anchorage, who came into the game having killed 13 of their last 14 penalties, only went 1-3 Friday.

Defensemen continued to get into the goal scoring after spending most of the first three weekends shut out with Mark Alt and Justin Holl each getting their name on the score sheet. Alt scored his first goal of the season off of a howitzer from freshman Travis Boyd while Holl put the dagger into Alaska-Anchorage thirty seconds into the third period to make it 4-0 Gophers.

Haula finished the scoring by putting Minnesota ahead 5-0 with a laser from the right circle on the power play.

The Gophers were clearly the much better team Friday night and Alaska struggled to contain their offense. However, the Seawolves were able to create opportunities in the final two periods (and actually out-shot Minnesota 22-21) but Patterson and the Gophers defense stood tall. The blue line was especially great as they blocked multiple Anchorage shots and had no problems with gap control.

With a 5-0 win it’s hard to find negatives but Minnesota ended the game on a negative note. The Gophers looked to be playing disciplined hockey – which was needed after taking some questionable penalties in Sunday’s loss – but Minnesota gave the Seawolves three power plays in the final twelve minutes. Patterson stood tall but the stretches of undisciplined play need to be cut back.

It seems like every game features a ten minute stretch with three Minnesota penalties and while I don’t want to see the Gophers lose aggression, there’s no excuse for losing focus after leading 5-0.

That’s one of the only things holding back Minnesota but in the end, the maroon and gold improved tonight to 3-0 in the WCHA with three road victories after tonight’s 5-0 win. The Gophers have a chance to sweep Alaska-Anchorage – something which no one did last season – tomorrow night at 10 PM Central.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN 1500 and streamed here.

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