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What is more special than a hockey game between Minnesota and UMD?
Well, how about two games between the Gophers and Bulldogs? Or two doubleheaders?
That’s what they did last Saturday at AMSOIL Arena, in a sort of disjointed way for the UMD women to open their WCHA season with a series against arch-rival Minnesota, followed by the men’s nonconference game against former arch-rival Minnesota. The first women’s game had been Friday night, when UMD freshman Gabbie Hughes staked the Bulldogs to a 1-0 lead barely a minute into the game, only to have the Gophers come storming back with four straight goals in a 4-2 first period, that ended up 5-2 for the Gophers.
The UMD men, meanwhile, had a rare Saturday-Sunday home-and-home series against the Gophers, with the first game Saturday night at AMSOIL, when the game would begin after UMD unveiled its new NCAA championship banner in the rafters of AMSOIL. Then the Bulldogs and Gophers would head down I-35 for a Sunday night rematch. As it turned out, the Gophers jumped ahead 3-0 in the first period, and UMD closed it to 3-2, but the Gophers came up with counter-rallies the rest of the way and hammered UMD 7-4. Rude treatment for the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs, who played well enough to win, but didn’t get great goaltending from last year’s tournament star Hunter Shepard, who got pulled in the third period after giving up the sixth Gopher goal.
But let’s go back to Saturday, when any hockey fan would have had more than a fair share of fun spending six hours at AMSOIL Arena. Both games were tense, tight-checking contests, too, and it left me with an idea.
Remember now that UMD is striving to move back up with Minnesota and Wisconsin to rejoin the top echelon of women’s hockey, so the three are great rivals in the Women’s WCHA. Since they start a week earlier, Minnesota had swept Mercyhurst and UMD had surprisingly opened by sweeping No. 4 Boston College. So what better time to have the Bulldogs and Gophers play than to open their WCHA slates against each other?
Meanwhile, we were all perturbed when Minnesota pulled out of the WCHA and went off to help start the Big Ten on its own conference way, then UMD went off another direction with St. Cloud State to start an all-new NCHC, leaving the Men’s WCHA in the surprisingly capable hands of MSU-Mankato, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and the rest. So when UMD and Minnesota play now, the edge of conference intensity is off, and it’s a nonconference game, or series.
So what could be better than for both of them to get all the Minnesota state fans’ juices flowing by kicking off the season with a Gopher-Bulldog nonconference series? There was an added little pinprick in hoisting the NCAA banner, because Minnesota looked like the 16th and final team in the tournament before the last-day’s conference tournament play squeeed UMD ahead of Minnesota by .001 — one ten-thousandth — of a computer ratings point.
But forget all of that stuff. Saturday’s big day at AMSOIL gave me a great idea: The Gopher-Bulldog women’s game at 3 p.m. and the men’s at 7 made for a great doubleheader. So why not schedule it right now for the next four years — season-opening weekend, both teams play both teams, home-and-home in a pair of doubleheaders.
Next season, for example, the women play at Ridder on Friday at 3 and the men play at Mariucci at 7, then the teams all journey to Duluth for a similar doubleheader at AMSOIL on Saturday. The year after that, the teams would open in Duluth and then make the run to Minneapolis.
It would be the perfect highlight for the season, and as a cost-saver, could eliminate some hotel bills. The visiting teams probably would want to go to the other town and stay overnight Thursday night, but after the Friday games, the home team sleeps in its own beds, and the visiting team makes the 2-hour trip home to sleep in its own beds, too. The visiting teams go to the other town early Saturday and play, then return home right after the game.
I think it’s a can’t-miss thing, and would be a unique way for UMD and Minnesota to add a new chapter to their rivalries.
From UMD’s standpoint, the 0-1-1 weekend wasn’t what the Bulldogs anticipated. But Bob Motzko, making his first appearance as Gophers head coach since his long and successful tenure at St. Cloud State, got his lads off and running to play the Bulldogs even in the first game.
UMD announced a sellout, and the third largest AMSOIL crowd ever, although there were a surprising number of empty seats in the Saturday crowd. An oddity was that after Finnish freshman Sampo Ranta scored for Minnesota on a quick 30-footer off Tommy Novak’s pass at 12:07 of the first period, the teams battled scorelessly until Peter Krieger got the equalizer on a power play at 3:38 of the third, converting after Kobe Roth’s shot from the left slot had been blocked by goalie Mat Robson.
Then the teams played scorelessly to the end, and through a 5-minute overtime, 5-on-5. The fans sat silently, awaiting the usual 3-on-3 overtime, then they stood, still silently, before finally trooping out.
Turns out the NCHC’s rule of 5-on-5, then 3-on-3, and then a shootout for an extra point in league standings, has been adopted by the Big Ten for this season, too. And yet their rules call for one 5-on-5 overtime and then the game is declared a tie in nonconference play.
Except for team officials, and maybe a half-dozen souls in the press box, nobody knew that. It might have been wise to put a notification up on the scoreboard’s giant, advertising-filled screen, or made an announcement on the public address system at the end of regulation that there would be one overtime, only.
“It seemed pretty stupid,” said Minnesota coach Bob Motzko. “All the fans were waiting for 3-on-3
In the second game, Brannon McManus scored twice in the firsdt 11 minutes to stake Minnesota to a 2-0 lead, and Tyler Sheehy made it 3-0. That was too large a hole to recover from, although the Bulldogs gave it a spirited effort, only to have every rally short-circuited by a Minnesota counter-rally.
Freshman brothers Noah and Jackson Cates accounted fo rthree goals, with Jackson getting UMD’s final two. Noah Cates fot the first UMD goal, at 9:46, and Mikey Anderson cut the deficit to 3-2 at 14:41 of the middle period. But any hope of Shepard getting his game back in order went away when Sammy Walker and Rem Pitlick scored goals 65 seconds apart to restore the Gophers to a 5-2 edge. Those two goals meant Shepard only made one save in the middle 20 minutes as UMD dominated play.
The third period started and Garrett Wait scored at 3:08 for the Gophers, causing UMD coach Scott Sandelin to pull Shepard for back-up Nick Deery. Jackson Cates came through with two goals, but Ranta got one between them for Minnesota.
Shepard, on a rare off-night, stopped only 11 of 17 Gophers shots he faced as UMD outshot Minnesota 46-22. In Saturday’s 1-1 tie, he stopped 27 of 28 Gopher shots as UMD outshot Minnesota 32-28, and was voted player of the game.
“I thought we played better in the second game than the first,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We gave up the first three, then we came back and clawed our way back into it with some momentum.. Their fourth goal was a tough one.”
This weekend, it’s off to Michigan Tech for UMD, having dropped from No 1 to No. 3 in national rankings. They’re back in AMSOIL in two weeks to face Maine, and every nonconference game carries computer ratings points that could prove valuable six months from now, in determining the 16 teams that get invited to the NCAA’s post-season tournament.