WCHA Hockey Tournament: Gophers Defeat Alaska-Anchorage 7-3; Advance To Final Five

Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech have clinched their berths to St. Paul with wins on Saturday. The final spot will be decided Sunday when Denver and Wisconsin play a Game 3. For more coverage of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, check out The Daily Gopher.

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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Goes "En Fuego" In Third Period, Beat Alaska-Anchorage 7-3 Saturday

For forty-five minutes Saturday night, it looked like Alaska-Anchorage would be the team whose quick scoring would make the biggest difference. Tied at 3, the Seawolves were getting chances on net in the third period and just hit the crossbar on a shorthanded attempt to finish the second.

Then before they could blink, the Gophers stole their quick scoring crown and the game.

"We had them on their heels and then it flipped-flopped. We marched to the box, took three or four penalties and lost our legs and ran out of gas," said Seawolves head coach Dave Shyiak.

Three goals by Minnesota (26-12-1) in 91 seconds, including two by Erik Haula 18 seconds apart, turned a tight game into a 7-3 rout over Alaska-Anchorage (9-25-2) and sent the Gophers to their first Final Five since 2009. Jake Hansen, Zach Budish, Nick Bjugstad, Seth Helgeson and Sam Warning also scored for the Maroon and Gold while Matt Bailey scored twice in defeat.Kent Patterson in front of 9,018 fans at Mariucci Arena.

Penalties played a major role in Saturday's game. After giving the Seawolves 3 first period power plays in Friday's 2-1 win, Minnesota was the team with the man advantage Saturday. The Gophers had three power play opportunities in the opening twenty minutes - they only had two all of Friday - but were unable to take advantage of them or find a way past Alaska-Anchorage goaltender Chris Kamal. Jake Hansen came the closest when he hit the post.

Hansen, however, did score earlier in the period when Minnesota was even-strength - tipping in a shot from Ben Marshall past Kamal - to give them a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.

Alaska-Anchorage battled back in the second period and used Gopher penalties to their own advantage en route to three power play goals. The first by Bailey took only 35 seconds to tie the game. He added another seven minutes later after the Seawolves received two minutes with a two-man advantage with both Seths (Helgeson and Ambroz) in the box. Finally Scott Allen scored his third of the season on a rebound, putting Minnesota in a 3-1 hole halfway through the game.

"Hats off to Alaska-Anchorage," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. " They played extremely well and took advantage of the power plays."

As good as the Seawolves were on the power play, the Gophers continued to struggle. They looked great when they were playing five-on-five hockey to the point where they continued to force Alaska-Anchorage to take penalties. Unfortunately when they were on the man-advantage, Minnesota often looked like the team who was shorthanded.

Zach Budish got the team within one with 8:44 remaining after he one-timed a Kyle Rau pass past Kamal, It looked like they would be down a goal at the second period before Nick Bjugstad broke through with 45.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 3 and give the Gophers their first power play goal in seven opportunities

"We had a little bit of a roll at the end of the second, beginning of the third," said Budish, who has five goals and five assists in eight games against Anchorage.

Bjugstad's last-minute goal changed momentum and the floodgates opened 5:05 into the third period. When Kyle Rau baited everyone towards him, Erik Haula found himself all alone and made Chris Kamal look human for the first time all weekend to give Minnesota a 4-3 lead.

"We wanted to do this tonight, it was payback from last year," said Haula, who has five goals in his last three games.

Haula went beast mode again 18 seconds later and the rout was on. Whether Kamal lost his composure or the Seawolves were tired after having to kill 13 minutes of penalties or perhaps both, Minnesota could not stop scoring. Helgeson made up for his previous penalty leading to an UAA goal with a slap shot for his fourth goal of the season and Sam Warning found himself the recipient of Haula's generosity to cap off the scoring.

The highlight of the night, meanwhile, was senior walk-on goalie Jake Kremer getting a chance to play in the final 44 seconds. Beckoned by assistant head coach Mike Guentzel, Lucia put in the third string goalie for his first action in his college career and Kremer ended the night with a 1.000 save percentage.

"It was awesome. [Kremer] works his tail off in practice. We would have liked to see him play on senior night (against Wisconsin) but couldn't since it was a 2-1 game," said Budish.

In the end though, he and the rest of the Gopher hockey team are advancing to their first Final Five since 2009. And between the onslaught of goals and finish, it was a good night all around.

Minnesota will play an opponent yet to be determined in the Final Five next Friday. The game will be televised on Fox Sports North.

For more Minnesota Golden Gophers coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Gopher. You can also read up on the WCHA at Western College Hockey.


Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Defeats Alaska-Anchorage 2-1 Friday With Two Erik Haula Goals

In a night which has seen three college hockey games go to double overtime and upsets in the CCHA and Hockey East, the Golden Gophers (and their bleached blond hair) did just enough to win.

"It was the type of game I expected it to be," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "Look around the country with all the overtimes and that is what happens this time of year."

Erik Haula scored twice, the second one being controversial, and Chris Kamal made 32 saves for Alaska-Anchorage (9-24-2, 5-22-1 WCHA) as Minnesota (25-12-1, 20-8-0 WCHA) defeated the Seawolves 2-1 Friday night at Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers moved up to sixth place in the Pairwise rankings with the win.

Coming out sporting bleached blonde hair as a playoff bonding experience, Minnesota took two early penalties that gave the Seawolves chances on goaltender Kent Patterson and hurt any chance to get an flow going in the first period. Alaska-Anchorage out-shot the Gophers 6-2 in the first 10 minutes before the Maroon and Gold found their legs late in the period. They had a couple great chances, including a Jake Hansen tip in the final minute, but Kamal kept the score (0-0) and shots (9-9) tied after 20 minutes.

"I think [Kamal] is a a great goalie to go out and face 30 shots per game and get a chance to win. He's a big player who came to play tonight on a big stage and big players come to play in big games," said defenseman Nate Schmidt.

Haula, who came up big in last weekend's 2-1 victory over Wisconsin, did so again 1:42 into the second period. After receiving a breakout pass from Schmidt, the Minnesota Wild prospect took advantage of a rare odd-man rush and shot a wrister to the right of Chris Kamal and into the net for a 1-0 Gophers lead. He went "beast mode" after, running into the boards to celebrate and having his wrist looked at.

Eight minutes later, Erik tapped home a rebound after Nate Schmidt hit the post for his second goal of the night and a long review. Replays showed that Jake Hansen ran into Kamal but it was inconclusive whether or not the Seawolves goaltender could have stopped it.

"[Minnesota's second goal] was clearly a no goal. It was goalie interference. You can see the overhead of it," said Alaska-Anchorage head coach Dave Shyiak said. "[The refs] agreed that he was knocked down but couldn't get to it. I said 'so you're going to guess if he could get it?' It was the call and there's nothing more said about it.

The Seawolves, meanwhile continued to frustrate the home team and bait them into parading to the box as they had seven power plays to Minnesota's two (one being 25 seconds). A late interference penalty by Seth Ambroz with one minute left in the second period ended up being a turning point for UAA. While the Gophers seemed content to play out the final few seconds, senior defenseman Brad Gorham made them pay with a shot that trickled past Patterson with two seconds remaining to cut the lead to 2-1.

"I was real proud of our effort tonight. We did a lot of little things and frustrated them," said Shyiak. "I thought our guys battled hard."

Alaska-Anchorage continued getting chances in front of Kent Patterson in the third period. Eric Scheid found himself all alone on a power play chance but the senior goalie, who made 16 saves Friday, stood tall when Minnesota needed him the most.

Momentum turned in the final ten minutes and Minnesota continued testing Kamal in an attempt to get a third goal. They were unsuccessful but were able to hold on playing their best hockey of the night. Of course it helped that this was the longest stretch of hockey without having to kill a penalty.

"[The coaches] addressed that we needed to stay out of the penalty box (after intermission)," said Haula.

Overall, it was a good win for the Gophers. It may not have been the cleanest victory as a 1-12 match-up but they looked dominant at times despite taking penalties and going against a goalie that clearly has their number in Chris Kamal. Games like Friday are going to be the norm in the post-season and although Minnesota has some things to work on for Saturday and beyond, they found a way to win a game which could have easily gone the other way (and has this season).

Minnesota faces Alaska-Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs again at Mariucci Arena Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.

For more on the Minnesota Golden Gophers, check out The Daily Gopher. You can also catch up on the WCHA and college hockey over at Western College Hockey.

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