Minnesota's Season In Jeopardy After Loss
Stalock Comes Up Huge as UMD Advances to WCHA Semis
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. To say its season is over might be a bit much, but it's pretty safe to say Minnesota has a long hill to climb if it wants to make the NCAA tournament Sunday morning.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, it won't have any say in the matter.
The Gophers can thank Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Alex Stalock for that. The junior, who grew up about 10 minutes from the Xcel Energy Center, stopped 39 shots for UMD in a 2-1 win Thursday night in the WCHA Final Five play-in game. Earlier in the day, he was named First Team All-WCHA goaltender.
The win advances Duluth into a Friday night showdown with MacNaughton Cup champion North Dakota.
For the Gophers, who once reigned supreme as the nation's No. 1 team earlier this season, they must wait around the television.
"We're obviously going to be rooting for the high seeds to win out," said Gophers coach Don Lucia, alluding to Minnesota's current No. 14 spot in the Pairwise. Despite the loss, that would still place Minnesota in the NCAAs, if it stays in that spot, and if none of the current non-NCAA teams win their conference tournaments.
It didn't take long to establish just whose night it was going to be Thursday.
All week, Minnesota goaltender Alex Kangas battled the flu. He was questionable until Thursday afternoon, when Lucia decided to start him. But it was evident early that the sophomore was not on top of his game, as MacGregor Sharp gathered in a big rebound in front of Kangas just 3:46 into the game and stuffed it home for the early lead.
It was the only goal of the period, and Kangas was absent for the rest of the night because of illness. So sick was he, Kangas did not bother to hang out on the bench.
Kangas' sickness opened the door for freshman Kent Patterson.
"We told Kent all week that he needed to be ready to go," Lucia said. "I thought he did a good job in a tough situation."
Minnesota was a step slower for 40 minutes and appeared shocked by the early UMD goal.
"They scored early and we had some trouble getting some rhythm going," Lucia said. "We struggled early and had to play a little more north-south tonight and not east-west.
"But the effort was there. UMD is a good team."
Duluth's second goal also came thanks to a lucky bounce. Matt Greer was ready for a line change before firing a low shot at Patterson. The puck bounced off some leg pads and skates in front before fluttering past the goaltender late in the second period.
Lucia knew that one would be a tough one to recover from.
"They only allowed one goal each game last weekend at CC," Lucia said. "But when you have a goaltender like they have and you get some timely scoring ..."
The Gophers finally broke through in the third and dominated play for much of the final 20 minutes but could not pull even. Down one late in the game, Minnesota's Nico Sacchetti had the puck on his stick, Stalock out of his net and a chance to tie it up. But the puck slid off his stick wide of the net.
"That kind of typified our night," Lucia said.
UMD moves to a tie for 11th in the Pairwise, and would assuredly be in with a win over UND tomorrow. A loss, and it might take a win in the third-place game to do the trick.
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