With their season on the line, the University of Minnesota ran into a hot goalie. Alaska-Anchorage goalie Chris Kamal, who earlier in the season shut out the Gophers 1-0, stopped all twenty-four shots on goal as the Seawolves beat Minnesota 2-0 to advance to the WCHA Final Five for the second time in school history. This loss ends any chance for the Gophers to advance to the NCAA Tournament and marks the first time in forty years that a Gopher coach has missed the tournament three years in a row.
Minnesota was the aggressor for most of the first two periods as they controlled the game in the Seawolves zone. At the same time, Alaska-Anchorage was able to keep the Gophers to the outside and get in front of pucks. The Seawolves ended the game with twenty-five blocked shots for the second night in a row. When a Gopher player was able to thwart the Seawolves blue line and get a good opportunity to score, Kamal stood tall.
It wasn’t until the third period that anyone was able to score. After preaching patience to his team during the second intermission, Don Lucia and the 9,000 fans in Mariucci Arena watched fourth-line forward Mickey Spencer get around a pinched-in Kevin Wehrs and score his first goal of the season 2:32 into the third period. After a couple Minnesota scoring chances, including a powerplay, Tommy Grant scored on a breakaway to make it 2-0 and the celebration for Alaska-Anchorage was on.
In the end, Alaska-Anchorage was able to play to their own strengths and goaltending; a thought echoed by both coaches after the game. Minnesota captain Jay Barriball, who had two opportunities in the game, was visibly upset with the outcome of his Gophers career. His knee felt good enough but “[the team] just couldn’t get it done.” So instead of the Gophers, the Seawolves earn their biggest win in program history and get to adjust to NHL regulation ice (they haven’t played on it in a month) as they spend another week in St. Paul.
For the Gophers, the early end of a season brings up a lot of questions for a program that is known for its dominance and missed its third straight NCAA tournament. Coach Lucia refused to answer any questions looking at the future when asked by reporters but they will be sure to come up in the weeks and months ahead.
-Lucia admitted after the game forward Erik Haula played with a broken foot.
-This is the second time Alaska-Anchorage has played in the Final Five; the first was in 2004.
-Lucia is the first Gophers coach in 40 years to miss the NCAA Tournament 3 years in a row.
-This is the second year in a row Minnesota has missed the Final Five and third overall.