MANKATO, Minn. — In its first four road games this season, the Minnesota men’s hockey team scored 23 goals, never fewer than four and as many as nine against Colorado College, the program’s biggest offensive outburst since 2005.
Then the Gophers met Phil Cook.
Minnesota State’s sophomore goaltender had the gall to stand up to Minnesota’s obnoxiously productive traveling offense, stopping 82 of 85 shots as the Mavericks swept the two-game series in Mankato, 3-2 and 2-1.
Cook was so good that, shortly after his career-high 49 stops Saturday night, Gophers head coach Don Lucia preordained him WCHA defensive player of the week.
“In hockey, a goaltender can beat you,” Lucia said. “And [Cook] was outstanding all weekend.”
But especially Saturday. The Gophers had plenty of scoring opportunities, including two breakaways for senior captain Jay Barriball, but Cook stopped everything he got a good look at.
In the first period, what would have been freshman Nick Bjugstad’s second goal of the weekend was disallowed because fellow freshman Nate Condon was in the crease and kept Cook from making a play on the puck. Minnesota’s lone goal was senior defenseman Cade Fairchild‘s hopeful flip toward Cook that took a fortuitous bounce into the net.
Fairchild’s third of the season was the last of Saturday’s scoring, all of which took place in a 10 minute stretch from the end of the second period to the middle of the third.
It looked as though the first two periods would pass without a goal, but three penalties in rapid succession caught up with the Gophers. At 19:11 in the second, Mavericks captain Rylan Galiardi walked the puck in front of Patterson’s net and stuffed it past him for MSU’s second power play goal of the weekend. Minnesota went 0-for-11 in the series with a man advantage.
Playing from behind again, the Gophers threw the sink at MSU in the third period. Cook and the Mavericks’ penalty kill, however, thwarted an early four-on-three power play and two minutes later, defenseman Kurt Davis’ blistering slapshot from the slot after a mid-ice interception stretched their the lead to 2-0. Junior goaltender Kent Patterson, whose night was overshadowed by Cook’s but who nonetheless made 30 saves, could do little about it.
It wouldn’t be the last of MSU’s opportunities as the Gophers played high on the ice.
“You know you’re going to get a couple quality chances when they’re sending the sink like that,” Mavericks head coach Troy Jutting said. “They’re playing offense with five guys … and you’re going to get two or three chances — you just are.”
Yet MSU didn’t score again. And 44 seconds later, Fairchild’s swat from the left circle bounced in.
For the second straight night, the Mavericks had to cling to a one-goal lead and weather a manic final few minutes.
In fact Friday, they preserved the slimmest of leads for more than 25 minutes.
With 5:15 remaining in the second, junior Nick Larson knocked home a rebound of Nico Sacchetti’s shot from the slot to pull the Gophers back to within one entering the final period.
“I thought when it was 3-2 going into the third that we’d score another,” Lucia said.
They never did. Cook and senior Alex Kangas, who stopped 21 shots, exchanged big saves, and although Minnesota played the final 85 seconds on the power play and with an empty net, MSU hung on for the first win of its eventual sweep.
“The most glaring negative is that we really only gave ourselves a chance to win one night — [Saturday],” Fairchild said. “[Friday] night we really didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. That’s the most frustrating thing for us, we need to be consistent.”
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