Further burying its disastrous 2010 season, the Minnesota softball team won its third Big Ten game of the season on a miserable Saturday afternoon to surpass its conference win total from a year ago. Though Penn State would avenge its 1-0 loss with a 2-0 win Sunday, the Gophers (25-17, 3-5 Big Ten) reached 25 wins for just the second time since 2004 and remain eight games over .500. Freshman pitcher Sara Moulton pitched all 14 innings of the weekend, allowing two runs âÄî neither earned âÄî on nine hits and striking out 16.
The Minnesota softball team didnâÄôt even need its full non-conference schedule to surpass its 2010 win total, but the Gophers stumbled in their home opener Saturday, dropping a Big Ten doubleheader to Ohio State.
In the week since the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey teamâÄôs 2010-11 season ended at the hands of Alaska Anchorage, leaving it out of the WCHA Final Five for the second straight season, the program almost simultaneously received stabilizing and destabilizing news. First, Athletics Director Joel Maturi said publicly that head coach Don Lucia will be offered a contract extension this offseason. Then on Wednesday, junior defenseman Aaron Ness left for the NHL, signing a three-year entry contract with the New York Islanders.
MinnesotaâÄôs formidability at Mariucci Arena during the regular season has eroded in recent years, from a home record north of .700 every season between 2000 and 2006, to barely above .500 (10-9-1 and 9-8-3) the past two. But during the WCHA playoffs, Mariucci remains a nightmarish place for visitors. The Gophers (15-12-5, 12-10-4 WCHA) are 26-1 all-time at Mariucci in conference playoff games and have never lost a first-round series there. Their lone loss: in 2007, 2-1 in overtime to Alaska Anchorage.
BEMIDJI âÄì HowâÄôs this for a 24-hour mood swing? Gophers center Nick Bjugstad was the goat here Friday night, however unfairly. A one-goal lead in hand, the freshman took a hooking penalty with 40 seconds to play, giving Bemidji State, its goalie pulled, a 6-on-4 power play.
Perhaps his career at Minnesota has trained him to fear the worst, but when senior captain Jay Barriball left the ice with a leg injury Feb. 5 against Minnesota-Duluth, he wondered if heâÄôd ever wear a Gophers uniform again. âÄúIt was real scary. Right when it happened and I went off and got checked out by the doctor at UMD, they were thinking long term,âÄù Barriball said. âÄúMy heart sank; I thought, âÄòHere we go again.âÄôâÄù
North Dakota clinched at least a share of its second MacNaughton Cup in three years with a sweep of Bemidji State and Michigan Tech has been a lock as the lowest seed in the WCHA playoffs for some time. But the seeds in between are very much up for grabs entering the final weekend of the regular season. ItâÄôs a numbers game now. Along with the Sioux, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth are guaranteed to host the first round. The fifth-place Gophers are in a four-way race âÄî separated by four points âÄî for the final two home-ice slots.
Michigan Tech is hardly one of MinnesotaâÄôs bigger rivals âÄî certainly not on the level of North Dakota or Minnesota-Duluth âÄî and is last in the WCHA by a wide margin; it has won just two league games this season. But even as they were being swept, the Huskies left their mark on the 20th-ranked Gophers at Mariucci Arena. A brawl that resulted in two ejections and two 10-minute misconduct penalties late in SaturdayâÄôs second period encapsulated a surprisingly physical and antagonistic weekend, which included, of all things, a five-minute facemasking penalty.
Ah, the art of peaking âÄî that elusive, fleeting moment when a team is at its best. Ideally, it occurs at the brink of the postseason; in reality, itâÄôs hard to pinpoint. To wit: the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team. Here are the Gophers, on their first three-game unbeaten streak since mid-November, one point clear of Colorado College for the final home-ice slot in the WCHA playoffs and averaging 3.67 goals per game in their last six. But playing their best hockey? Head coach Don Lucia doesnâÄôt quite accept the premise.
Cue the mad dash. Caught in a tight race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, Minnesota edged into sixth place âÄî 1 point clear of Colorado College âÄî with a 3-point weekend at Wisconsin. After a dominant 5-2 win Friday, the Gophers were unable to complete the sweep and settled for a 3-3 tie Saturday, but nonetheless snapped the BadgersâÄô 10-game unbeaten streak at the Kohl Center.
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