The diagnosis Friday night was eerily reminiscent of the week prior.
“When we get down 1-0 we’ve got to score the next goal, make it 1-1,” head coach Don Lucia said.
Where have we heard that one before?
Oh, that’s right, last weekend when Nebraska-Omaha showed up at Mariucci Arena and swept in its first-ever Western Collegiate Hockey Association series by building early 4-0 and 3-0 leads. Not to be outdone, this weekend’s visitor, St. Cloud State (2-3-1, 1-1-0 WCHA), went up 5-0 on Friday and breezed to a 5-2 win.
Same tune, different night.
The slow start now a disturbing trend, it looked entirely possible that Minnesota would leave its first two conference series winless.
So Sunday, Lucia juggled the lines in the name of offensive balance, started junior Kent Patterson in the net instead of senior Alex Kangas and put two players on the ice for the first time this season.
A slightly complex remedy for a simple diagnosis, but it worked. Though they again went behind, Minnesota (3-3-0, 1-3-0) scored the next two goals, won 2-1 and earned the split.
“There was a sense of urgency today,” senior Jacob Cepis, who scored the Gophers’ first goal and assisted fellow senior Jay Barriball’s game-winner, said. “We needed these points.”
Of course, that’s how the Huskies felt, too. Like Minnesota, St. Cloud State limped into the weekend, winless in its last three and able to boast only about a 3-1 season-opening win over the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“We hadn’t been scoring many goals,” Huskies head coach Bob Motzko said. “Guys need to get that first goal to feel good about their season.”
On Friday the Gophers were happy to oblige. As part of St. Cloud’s five-goals-in-two-periods barrage, freshman Nic Dowd scored the first of his career and seniors Brian Volpei and Garrett Roe scored the first of their season.
Roe’s goal and two assists inched him to within 35 points of the Huskies’ all-time career points record, set just last season by Ryan Lasch.
By the start of the third period, the game had pragmatically ended, but senior Mike Hoeffel and junior Taylor Matson scored inconsequential consolation goals before the final horn mercifully sounded.
After the game, Lucia offered up some inconsequential numbers of his own, albeit knowingly.
“We’ve been down 12-0 to start the three home games and then we’re up 8-1 after that,” he said. “But it’s too little, too late at that point.”
On Sunday it worked out much better when, after the Huskies scored first to widen the Gophers’ cumulative early game deficit to 13-0, Cepis walked the puck in front of the net less than a minute later and slipped a backhand under St. Cloud goaltender Dan Dunn.
It also helped that Dunn’s Minnesota counterpart, Kent Patterson, in net for just the second time this season and first time in the WCHA, was nothing short of spectacular. With the exception of Brett Barta’s seeing-eye goal early in the first, Patterson swallowed up everything flung in his direction, most critically during the Huskies’ lone third period power play, when he anticipated a back-door pass and slid over to make a pad save on Travis Novak’s one-time shot.
Patterson spurred the victory, Lucia said after the game. Cepis credited the win to the team correcting a lot of its defensive issues.
Whatever the catalyst, it was clear after the game that Minnesota was breathing a collective sigh of relief.
“It was a huge win for us today,” Patterson said. “Especially to get those first two points [in the WCHA].”
Bjugstad diagnosed with mono
Freshman center Nick Bjugstad was a last-minute scratch from Sunday’s game after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Lucia said Bjugstad, Minnesota’s reigning Mr. Hockey, went to a clinic Saturday to be tested and learned shortly thereafter that he had indeed contracted the virus.
“I didn’t know until an hour before practice yesterday,” Lucia said after Sunday’s game. “We actually switched our lines around from practice this morning.”
Senior Mike Hoeffel missed about a month last season with mono, including the St. Cloud series, and said this week that he never felt fully healthy again until after the season ended.
The Gophers travel to Colorado College next week, host Wisconsin Nov. 5-6, and then have a week off. Lucia said he hopes Bjugstad can return for the Nov. 19-20 series at Michigan Tech.