Can Gophers Win Being Gritty?

Part of the draw was to see which Minnesota team would take the ice at the Kohl Center on Friday.

(Part of the draw, of course, was the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry — something a college hockey fan should experience in either building at least once.)

Would it be the Golden Gophers that were shut out in three of their first four games of the season en route to an 0-3-1 record?

Or the team that gained separation from Alaska-Anchorage last weekend and at least temporarily righted the ship?

I can’t say it was either, but for most of the game, it certainly drifted toward the former.

Minnesota’s offense wasn’t effective at all through two periods of what turned out to be a 4-2 loss to Wisconsin. In the brief moments when the Gophers did look dangerous in the Badgers’ zone, they misfired. See Nico Sacchetti’s great chance at the side of the net in the second period, after a shot rebounded to the winger off the back boards. He got stuffed by Badgers goaltender Brett Bennett on the first try, but he had a second effort that he flipped over the bar. He showed the frustration that was evident regardless.

Full credit to Wisconsin’s defense for putting the clamps on the Gophers’ ability to get things started offensively. The Badgers blocked 30 of Minnesota’s 59 shot attempts (51 percent), and that kind of thing gets in a team’s head.

Minnesota’s offense did show life in the third period, but by that point, the Gophers were playing from behind. They made a run at a tying goal after cutting the deficit to 3-2, but Wisconsin held on.

So what do we make of these Gophers, now 2-4-1 both overall and in the WCHA? Are they destined for another middle-of-the-pack finish and spectator status for the NCAA regional not far from home at the Xcel Energy Center? They’ve already lost one of their key offensive forces, Jay Barriball, to season-ending surgery, but they can still field four forward lines of NHL draft picks, like they did Friday. No matter how goaltender Alex Kangas plays — and he gave up a doozy for Blake Geoffrion’s second goal of the game Friday — the offense has to drive the bus for Minnesota.

“It’s a long season, so we’re still figuring things out and guys are still identifying their roles,” Gophers winger Mike Hoeffel said. “But if we just stick to our plan of being a gritty team and being relentless and getting pucks behind their D and just grinding them out and getting scoring opportunities off of that, I think we’ll be a good team.”

If you want to be a team others will call gritty, though, you need to consistently wear down opponents with toughness, and while there were some flashes in that area Friday, it wasn’t enough to earn the moniker.