In what has to be a major blow to any postseason hopes, the University of Minnesota finds themselves down 1-0 in their best of three WCHA playoff series after losing 4-3 to the University of Alaska-Anchorage. After erasing a three goal deficit, the Gophers allowed Mitch Bruijsten to score a powerplay goal with 6:32 left and the Seawolves held on for the win.
What started off as a quiet and uneventful first period ended with a flurry of activity and a Sean Wiles rebound goal. Both Minnesota and Alaska-Anchorage took their time to get going as the first nine and a half minutes saw exactly two shots. The Seawolves did a good job of clogging the blue line and forcing Minnesota to dump the puck and go around them. After a trio of penalties opened the game up and led to some golden opportunities for both teams in the middle part of the period, Wiles scored with 36.9 seconds left in the period to give the Seawolves a 1-0 lead.
The second period was a tale of two halves as Minnesota got back into the game. The first half was dominated by Alaska-Anchorage taking advantage of opportunities as the Gophers came out flat. Their passes weren’t clicking and players did a poor job of moving the puck around. Jade Portwood made it a 2-0 game 1:56 into the second period by scoring on a 3×2 from the top of the slot for his second goal of the season.
This was followed up by the worst goalie gaffe Minnesota has seen since Jeff Frazee let in a 185-foot goal four years ago. In a scene reminiscent of Roberto Luongo earlier this season, Kent Patterson passed the puck straight to Alex Gellert who had an easy breakaway to make it 3-0.
After being left for dead by the crowd, Jake Hansen began the comeback with eight minutes left in the second by driving hard to the net and drawing a penalty shot. A rejuvenated fanbase cheered Hansen on as he shot between Seawolves goalie Chris Kamal to make it 3-1. Aaron Ness followed up sixteen seconds later on the powerplay with a slapshot from the point to make it 3-2.
The third period was lackluster for the first six minutes until a Tom Serratore check brought back life in Minnesota. Despite having to deal with a suffocating trap by Alaska-Anchorage, Kevin Wehrs was able to score a highlight-reel goal with 8:42 left for his third of the season and give Gopher Nation hope before the eventual letdown. A late charge resulted in Jay Barriball hitting the post with ten seconds left, but the Gophers were unable to come back.
The major issue for Minnesota tonight was goaltending. What has normally been a strong point for the Gophers ended up costing them as goalie Kent Patterson had issues all night with controlling rebounds. Both goals in the second period were rather weak and ended up haunting the team; there aren’t too many opportunities when one team wins after giving up a shorthanded and powerplay goal. If Minnesota wants to keep their season alive, they can’t afford to put themselves in a position where they need to catch up.
As it is now, Minnesota needs to win at least four games in a row to get to the NCAA Tournament. However before they even look at the Frozen Four, the Gophers need to start with winning game two.