MINNEAPOLIS — In a game which played out as anticipated, the Minnesota Golden Gophers used a late goal by captain Erik Westrum to edge past the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves 2-1 Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
Westrum’s team-leading sixth goal — on the Gophers’ second power play of the game — came moments after his teammates had killed off his ill-considered slashing penalty, taking Westrum from potential goat to hero with one movement of the stick.
The tally was set up by defenseman Dylan Mills and John Pohl cycling the puck high in the zone. From the point, Mills found Westrum parked alongside the net, and the senior center somehow banged home a turnaround shot that banked off goaltender Chris King, setting up a frantic — but scoreless — final two minutes.
“I had faith in our guys to kill [the penalty], said Westrum, who “redeemed himself as only he can,” according to Gopher head coach Don Lucia.
“It was exactly the type of game I expected — tight, low-scoring,” said Lucia. “I felt we were in control tonight, and I just didn’t want us to give up the turnover that would hurt us. [UAA] thrives on those.”
UAA’s well-known discipline governed play, despite the Gophers’ accumulation of 34 shots on goal to Anchorage’s 23. Neither team was able to control the puck for long stretches as Minnesota was held to its lowest scoring output of the young season.
Both the Gophers’ Adam Hauser and the Seawolves’ King were solid in net, though few of the saves on either side were of the spectacular variety, as both teams were forced to battle hard for their scoring chances.
In the early going, the Gophers looked capable of reproducing their offense of last Saturday, when they scored nine goals against Minnesota-Duluth. But after consecutive short-range chances for Westrum and a pipe by Pohl, the ‘Wolves settled into a defensive routine familiar to those who have seen them play under head coach Dean Talafous.
The first crack appeared just past the 11-minute mark on Dan Gilkerson’s interference call, holding freshman Troy Riddle in the Seawolf zone. Minnesota’s best scoring chance, a redirection of a Dylan Mills point shot by North Dakota import Grant Potulny, fooled the crowd and Potulny both into thinking the hosts had forged ahead, but the puck rattled out of the crease as play continued.
At 15:34, however, the Gophers scored for real. A Jordan Leopold outlet pass allowed speedster Riddle to split the defense, taking a high wrister over King for his fifth goal of the season and a 1-0 Minnesota lead. Bruising blueliner Matt DeMarchi picked up the second assist upon review, his third helper of the year.
UAA, though, answered immediately with captain Reg Simon and Joe Garvin getting shots in close before a Steve Cygan goal at 18:51 knotted it up. The 5-7 speed merchant took a Mike Scott pass up the middle, fighting through one defender for a one-handed shot that dented the twine high in the net for his team-leading fourth tally. Linemate Gregg Zaporzan also assisted on the play.
“He’s a lot faster on the ice than he is on the video,” said Hauser.
The second period featured more of the same brand of hockey, with the hosts helping King out by repeatedly shooting the puck into his body. Morgan Roach took a shot at putting UAA in front early, but Hauser squeezed the pads on his stuff try, and then stopped rookie Pete Talafous on the rebound.
For the Gophers, freshman Matt Koalska continued the offense with a wraparound attempt and a backhander from the slot, but neither was good enough to beat King. Jon Waibel was next, coming out of the corner for a stuff try at 11:00, but again King was equal to the task.
Alaska-Anchorage got its first power play of the evening on a Koalska trip of Cygan, but an ineffectual two minutes followed, with the puck spending as much time in the UAA end as elsewhere.
Minnesota turned up the heat a bit to open the third, accumulating a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal by the ten-minute mark, but still the score remained even. Westrum had another chance on a puck scooting through the crease minutes later, but could not get his stick on it as he was ridden off the play.
Two minutes after that, Ben Tharp appeared to be tripped up by rookie center Dallas Steward, but no call ensued, provoking the wrath of the increasingly-restless Mariucci crowd. Instead, it was Westrum who picked up a slashing penalty seconds later, putting UAA on its second power play.
But the Gophers successfully killed that man-advantage as well, and moments after the end of the power play a hold called against UAA’s Petr Chytka set up the winning goal.
Minnesota (5-0-0) and Alaska-Anchorage (2-3-0) meet again Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.