With the way the night was going, it was becoming apparent that Friday's game was going to be won or lost by the goalies. Unfortunately for the 9,451 Gophers fans at Mariucci Arena, Josh Robinson was the better goalie. The senior for Michigan Tech (9-7-1, 6-6-1 WCHA) made 34 saves and the Huskies beat the second-ranked Gophers 3-2 in overtime on a goal from captain Brett Olson thirty-three seconds into the extra period.
"I thought Robinson had a great game tonight," said an unhappy Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Both teams started slow until Mark Alt got the Gophers on the board first 10:22 into the game. The sophomore defenseman scored his third goal of the year with a shot from the blue line that went off a Michigan Tech defender past Robinson. Minnesota (13-5-1, 10-3-0 WCHA) picked things up but a pass by Blake Pietila hit a Gophers' skate in front of the net and trickled past Kent Pattesron to tie the game at 1.
Fluke goal or not, Michigan Tech hung in with the second-ranked Gopher hockey team. Minnesota entered Friday 12-1 when scoring first and the Huskies were able to keep getting chances and shots on Patterson, who made 23 saves. That included a slap shot by David Johnstone which hit the senior goaltender flush in the mask.
Neither team scored in the second period as Minnesota could not get past Robinson. This was despite them having seven shot attempts in front of the crease and an almost four minute power play between two Huskies penalties where the best opportunity came shorthanded from Michigan Tech sophomore Ryan Furne.
"Tonight was rough, said Alt. "It's happened to us before that we come out slow on Friday."
At one point the shots were 9-2 for the Gophers in the second period - they ended up out-shooting the Huskies 14-5 - but it was Michigan Tech who took the lead 1:07 into the third on a Jacob Johnstone power play goal which found its way past Patterson.
After that point, defense took over. Minnesota's defense never seemed to click Friday and Coach Lucia tried a couple different pairings to shake things up. On the Michigan Tech end, the team continued having four players back on the blue line and making the Gophers beat them through speed. Minnesota's speed didn't work but their slap shots did as one from the blue line by junior defenseman Seth Helgeson tied the game at 2 with 13:03 left,
Unfortunately for Helgeson, his high was matched by the low of getting beat on the game-winning goal. With both goalies standing tall and denying breakaways and odd-man rushes, sixty minutes were not enough. Thirty-three seconds into overtime, Brett Olson happened to be "in the right place at the the right time" and won a foot race with the Minnesota defenseman. It ended with him shooting the puck between Patterson's legs and Michigan Tech snapped the Gophers goalie's four-game winning streak against the Huskies.
"I did what I was supposed to do," said Helgeson after the game. "Maybe I could have had a different stick position.
Regardless, defense and sloppy play doomed Minnesota, who are now tied for first in the WCHA with Minnesota Duluth, as Michigan Tech was the better overall team Friday Although Robinson played well and made the difference, it was the Huskies team which handed the Gophers their first WCHA home loss.
"Any time we can play [Minnesota] and get a win it's good," said Olson. "We have to go back and regroup at the hotel [for Saturday]. We know what type of team they are. There's a reason they are at the top of the WCHA."
For Minnesota's sake, they better know that reason tomorrow.
Minnesota and Michigan Tech finish their two-game series at Mariucci Arena tomorrow night. The game starts at 8 PM and will be broadcast on Fox Sports North's Alternate Channel.