MINNEAPOLIS — The host Minnesota Gophers claimed third place in the Dodge Holiday Classic, winning a 2-0 shootout over Air Force after a 2-2 overtime tie in the consolation game.
The Gophers’ first and third shooters, Evan Kaufmann and Jay Barriball, scored in the shootout, while Minnesota goaltender Alax Kangas stopped all four Falcons shooters that he faced.
Air Force had forced overtime with an extra attacker goal from junior Brent Olson, his second of the game, with 62 seconds to play.
“It was a good tie,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “Any time you come from one goal down in the final minute, it’s a good tie.”
“It’s a good tie and a bad tie for us,” said Gophers’ coach Don Lucia, whose team is now 1-2-1 all-time against Atlantic Hockey squads. “I thought we played well; better than last night.”
The Falcons came out strong in the first period, getting the first five shots on goal. They were rewarded at the 4:19 mark when Olson got his first of the night, coming in as the trailer on an odd-man rush and putting a rebound past Kangas.
That lead would hold until 6:18 of the second period, when Ben Gordon tied the game with a blast from the top of the far faceoff circle. Blake Wheeler and Jay Barriball had worked the puck into the Air Force zone, and Barriball found Gordon, who tallied his sixth goal of the season.
The Gophers nearly made it 2-1 a few minutes later, but a spectacular diving stop by Air Force goaltender Andrew Volkening prevented a wraparound attempt by Kaufmann.
“It starts with goaltending, and (Volkening) was much better tonight,” said Serratore of the sophomore, who was pulled after giving up three goals on 11 shots in the first period in yesterday’s semifinal against Boston College. “I thought both goaltenders played very well. This game should have ended in a tie. Both teams deserved it.”
Minnesota took the lead at the 5:05 mark of the third period. Drew Fisher left a drop pass that went through a defenseman’s legs for Tom Pohl, who wristed a shot by Volkening.
Air Force used its timeout at 18:49 and pulled Volkening for an extra attacker. It took just nine seconds for Olson to get his second goal of the game, off a feed from Greg Flynn.
“We had drawn it up as a weak-side pass play,” said Serratore, who admitted to some confusion in getting the players he wanted in the positions he wanted them on the ice. “It didn’t work the way we planned it, but it worked.”
“I played my angle bad.”, said Kangas of the goal. “That was my fault.”
Air Force had the better chances in overtime, outshooting the Gophers 5-3 and forcing Kangas to make two point-blank saves. Shots were 35-32 for the contest in favor of Minnesota.
With the game going into the books as a 2-2 tie, a shootout was held to determine the third place team. Minnesota had never been in a shootout in school history, but took control early as Kangas stopped Air Force’s Jeff Hajner and Kaufmann scored for the Gophers. Volkening got a piece of the puck, but it barely trickled across the goal line.
Olson then missed for Air Force, and Volkening was able to stop Gordon in the second round. But after Eric Ehn was stoned by Kangas, Jay Barriball put a backhander by Volkening to give Minnesota a 2-0 shootout lead after three rounds. Kangas then stopped Mike Phillipich, giving the Gophers the shootout victory.
“I was a little nervous (before the shootout),” said Kangas. “I didn’t have much success with them in juniors, but we got the first goal and that took the pressure off.”
“We’re 9-9-2,” said Lucia. “That means we’re average. But we have a lot of hockey left to play and still have the chance to get home ice in the playoffs, make the Final Five and get to the NCAA tournament. It starts again next weekend.”