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.