From sorrowful to powerful: Home finale

The Gophers hockey team wrapped up its regular-season home schedule Friday and Saturday and the coin had two faces. In both instances, it was a team effort.

Friday, an almost complete systems failure led to an embarrassing 2-0 loss to a well-prepared, hard-working Denver University team. The Pioneers had clearly studied their video and scouting reports and Minnesota had nothing to offer all night. The damage would have been worse but for goalie Adam Wilcox, who posted 34 saves, only to be tagged with his sixth loss of the season. Wilcox earned the game’s number three star.

The aftermath was predictably explosive. Head coach Don Lucia told me, “I was mad Friday night then I went home and watched the replay and got even madder. Then I came in Saturday and tore into them.” He wasn’t alone. Associate head coach Mike Guentzel, a nose-to-the-grindstone player on Gophers teams of the 1980s, reportedly lit up the players with a behind-closed-doors scorching that could be heard well down the hallway Saturday.

All I can tell you is that as Casey Hankinson and I stood in the hall and watched the players come in Saturday night, they were stone-faced. Focused. Business-like. And even though the Pioneers jumped out to an early lead in game two, the feeling in the building was palpable; there would be no repeat of Friday’s malfeasances.

Following Denver’s early power play goal, the Gophers roared back with five unanswered markers, including two by captain Zach Budish, who also contributed two assists. Erik Haula earned the game’s number one star with a three-assist night. Budish was awarded the second star while Nick Bjugstad, who tallied his team-leading 17th goal on the power play to ignite a four-goal Gopher third period, received the third star.

Wilcox stopped 31 DU shots while Sam Brittain clocked 38 saves on 43 Gopher shots on goal at the other end.

It was a stellar comeback. It also begs the question: Why was it necessary? Where is the fire in the belly that elite teams must bring every night and why wasn’t it in the building on Friday?

Meanwhile, over at Ridder: The Gophers women’s team continues to forge its way into the record books. They pounded Bemidji State 8-0 next door at Ridder Arena to sweep their WCHA first-round playoff series. Eight different Gophers lit the lamp while goalie Noora Raty set an NCAA record with her 15th shutout of the season.

The win extends Minnesota’s perfect season to a remarkable 36-0-0.

The Gophers now host the women’s WCHA Final Five next weekend, which is already sold out. Standing room tickets are available at the moment but they’ll disappear fast, given the popularity of the Gopher women’s team and their world-class record.

Honoring a remarkable team: It was nice to see the Gophers men’s team honor the 1982-83 team during the first intermission Saturday. Head coach Brad Buetow and several members of the squad were presented on the ice. The event was to commemorate the season in which they won the WCHA championship and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four.

On a personal note, I enjoyed chatting with Buetow and a number of the players after the game. I called those games on radio back then and well remember the explosive firepower they brought to the rink night after night.

The numbers were a little different than those you see now. For example, the current WCHA goal-scoring leader is Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters. He has 20 goals and 48 points.

Contrast those totals with the players who topped the scoring list on Buetow’s 1982-83 team:
Scott Bjugstad: 43 goals, 91 points
Butsy Erickson: 35 goals, 82 points
Steve Griffith: 12 goals, 55 points

Why on earth Erickson was introduced as “Brian” I don’t know. Yes, that’s his name — but no one uttered it once during his Gophers career. To everyone, the former Roseau Rams star was — and will remain — “Butsy,” one of the all-time Gophers greats.

It was a fabulous era in which the Gophers routinely fired 50 or more shots on goal per game. In just two years, Pat Micheletti — who was also a member of that 1982-83 team — would flirt with a hundred-point season: 48 goals, 96 points.

Hop aboard for the season finale in Bemidji! Tom Chorske, Ben Clymer and I will drive north for the last two games of the regular season, tilts which could have enormous impacts on playoff pairings, this Friday and Saturday nights. Be there with us on FOX Sports North and FOX Sports North Plus!