Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kangas Steals One For Gopher Six

The Gopher hockey squad escaped Madison with a series split, thanks to the efforts of goaltender Alex Kangas.
Despite being out-shot 47-28, the Gophers came away with a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin in the series finale. The junior goaltender stopped a career-high 45 shots en route to his finest performance of the season.

The Gophers picked up an early 2-0 lead on goals by Tony Lucia and Zach Budish. Despite the lead, the Gophers were out-shot by Wisconsin 17-6 in the first period, thanks primarily to consecutive penalties to Minnesota defenseman Kevin Wehrs which led to Sconnie power plays. Kangas held his ground, and the Gophers held the lead.

One had the feeling the game could have changed on a dime had Wisconsin scored even one goal at that point, but Kangas was not to be denied. When Patrick White scored late in the second period, the team provided itself with some breathing room, and the Gophers carried a 3-0 lead into the dressing room despite trailing on the shot clock 32-16.

Jake Gardiner's goal 28 seconds into the third period gave Wisconsin a much-needed burst of energy, but Brian Schack, a senior making his first appearance of the season, found the back of the net for the first time since his freshman year eight minutes later to up the lead to three. Ryan McDonagh swatted a shot out of mid-air at the 12:14 mark of the period to cut the lead to 4-2, but the Gophers salted the game away with Budish's empty-netter to give them the split.

The game wasn't pretty, and the Gophers were simply out-skated by the Badgers, but Kangas absolutely stole the game for the M&G. He played with a confidence seldom seen last season and the team provided him with some offense despite the lack of shots on net. Despite being largely out-played, the Gophers held the line on the penalty-kill, shutting the Badgers down on all five attempts, and they have now killed off the last 20 opposition power play chances.

The Gophers were also forced to do some lineup juggling this weekend thanks to injuries to Jay Barriball (knee surgery - out for the season) and Nick Leddy (broken jaw - out six weeks). Schack made his first appearance since last season at the expense of struggling sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist, and the Gophers featured a lineup on Saturday which included seldom-used forwards Nick Larson and Joe Miller after forward Mike Hoeffel became ill during pregame warm-ups.

Lucia continued his red-hot streak with a goal and two assists. He now has 4-5-9 in his past four games after starting the season scoreless for the first two weeks. Budish picked up two goals for his first multi-goal game as a collegian and also added an assist.

Friday night's effort was not good, and Saturday's game wasn't pretty, but the Gophers will take the series split. They head home 3-4-1 overall and in the league and will face a tough Bemidji State team next weekend at Mariucci Arena for the first non-conference action of the season. Heading into that series working on a victory certainly beats the alternative.

Elsewhere in the WCHA:

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