Gophers Stick Salute After A Home Sweep (photo courtesy of Gophers Athletics/Paul Rovnak)

Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Routs North Dakota 6-2 Saturday; Splits Series

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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Come Back, Rout North Dakota 6-2 For Series Split

What a difference 24 hours makes.

After losing their third straight game Friday, the Minnesota Golden Gophers responded in a big way Saturday with a 6-2 road win against North Dakota. Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon each scored twice for Minnesota, who were able to split the series with UND and take the season series three games to one.

With their win and Minnesota-Duluth breaking their 17 game unbeaten streak in a 3-1 loss to Nebraska-Omaha 3-1, Minnesota is once again tied with the Bulldogs atop the WCHA with 24 points.

The Gophers got out to a fast start, which was a great change of pace given the team's struggles in the first period throughout their three-game losing streak. Minnesota had twice as many shots on net in the opening twenty minutes and two of them by Bjugstad found the back of the net. The first came 2:37 into the game after Kyle Rau was able to pick up a Danny Kristo turnover and find his fellow Florida Panthers draft pick all alone in the offensive zone. Bjugstad's second goal came in the closing seconds of the period when North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell saved a Rau shot but kicked the rebound straight to Bjugstad.

Like Friday night's game-tying goal for North Dakota, the Gophers' last minute goal took away any momentum from UND and Minnesota was able to add another two goals before the shell-shocked home team knew what hit them. Seth Ambroz scored his fourth goal of the season 2:05 into the second period on a sharp angle shot which found its way past Dell and defenseman Nate Schmidt scored on a slap shot from the blue line to make it 4-0 Gophers 46 seconds later.

Although Schmidt is tied for the college hockey lead in assists with 24, it was his first goal since October 23rd against Vermont.

North Dakota eventually woke up and take advantage of a lull in Minnesota's play. Michael Parks and Kristo both scored for UND and made it 4-2 Gophers with 6:29 left in the second period to get back into the game.

However the Maroon and Gold responded with another last minute goal as Ambroz found Nate Condon with a nice play and the sophomore from Wassau shot one past Dell. Condon put the game completely out of reach with his third shorthanded goal of the season 4:12 into the third period.

Both teams continued playing physical, meanwhile, leading to a bad hit by Mark Alt inciting a brawl and UND's Ben Blood being involved in a pair of postgame fights (including this one with Kyle Rau in the handshake line). North Dakota is not afraid to go cheap when losing and it's just another memorable moment in a long line of Minnesota-North Dakota brawls.Regardless of their attempt to regain some face, the final score rightfully showed Minnesota dominating North Dakota.

All in all, it was a much needed win for Minnesota. Despite feeling like the team could have played better Friday, the Gophers were able to gain a split in one of the toughest buildings in the WCHA. Other than a lapse after the fourth goal, Minnesota's defense was outstanding all weekend and Kent Patterson stood tall Saturday making 24 saves. The team as a whole was much more physical Saturday and seeing both the first and third lines step up in play and score goals off of rebounds was much needed. It's only one game, but if this Minnesota team shows up more often, they can play with any team at any time.

Minnesota next plays eighth-ranked Colorado College Friday and Saturday from Mariucci Arena. Friday's game starts at 7:00 PM and Saturday's game starts at a special time of 5:00 PM due to Hockey Day Minnesota.


Gophers Hockey: Brock Nelson's Persistence Pays Off; North Dakota Wins 2-1 Friday

If Friday's game was any indication, North Dakota's Brock Nelson is not a player who gives up. It remains to seen if Minnesota does the same because their season may depend on it.

Nelson, who was stopped on three earlier chances, scored his sixteenth goal with 3:35 remaining in the game to give UND a 2-1 lead. That was all they needed as the 17th-ranked team handed the Gophers their third straight loss in Grand Forks behind goals from Andrew MacWilliam, Nelson and 25 saves from UND goalie Aaron Dell.

Both teams started the game with an extra jump in their game and it showed. Minnesota missed the net on both a 4x2 and 3x1 odd-man rush while North Dakota shot wide on a 2x1. The teams were eventually able to calm down and challenge the goalies with the two best chances coming from UND junior Danny Kristo.

Kristo also had the worst play of the first period when Kristo checked Gopher Ben Marshall from behind into the boards. He was ejected, throwing sticks and making sure the refs knew his two cents as he left the ice, while Minnesota had an opportunity with a five minute power play. For the second straight week, however, they were unable to generate any offense and the two best opportunities with the man advantage were Brock Nelson on a breakaway and an ensuing wraparound which Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson saved en route to 23 saves.

North Dakota had other chances to get past Patterson but it was Kyle Rau who scored first for the Gophers. Rau's thirteenth goal of the season came 6:29 into the second period after a shot by Zach Budish rebounded off of Dell and right onto his stick. Minnesota played one of their better second periods Friday and came close to leaving the second up by one, but a turnover by Nick Bjugstad in the closing moments led to Andrew MacWilliam tying the game with nine seconds left.

That was all North Dakota needed to regain control. Although Minnesota forced Dell to make a couple good saves, the Gophers were not able to move the puck against North Dakota's blue line. Even with the man advantage, UND was able to get more scoring chances shorthanded which is amazing given the Minnesota power play was at one point the best in the nation. The Gophers also took some very bad and untimely penalties, such as Seth Ambroz negating the last 56 seconds of a power play with a boarding call away from the play. By the time Nelson scored on his sixth shot of the game, it was no surprise to see the home team ahead.

There are a few positives for Minnesota to take away from tonight's game - it would be remiss to not mention Zach Budish's playmaking and the defense rebounding from Notre Dame shredding them - but this is their third straight loss and the Gophers are 13th in the Pairwise rankings (which decide the teams that make the NCAA Tournament). Things which worked earlier in the seasons are not and it is time to mix up lines that aren't working or having players sit a game.

North Dakota is a good team and deserved to win tonight, but it's cause for concern when Gopher hockey is being outworked and not overcoming adversity. If playing against a rival like UND can't get them going, what will?

Minnesota and North Dakota play again Saturday at 7 PM. The game is broadcast on FSN Plus due to the Minnesota Wild playing the St. Louis Blues. Be sure to check your local listings.

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