March 11, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Haula Powers Gophers Back to St. Paul

by Dan Myers/CHN Staff

MINNEAPOLIS — In theory, the Minnesota Golden Gophers could pack up their operation and just set up shop down the road at Xcel Energy Center.

Thanks to sophomore forward Erik Haula, the Gophers will be playing there each of the next two weekends. Haula scored a pair of third-period goals and had the primary assist on two others as Minnesota clawed back from a 3-1 deficit to win 7-3, advancing to its first WCHA Final Five in three years.

For Haula, it's the continuation of a red-hot spell for the Pori, Finland, native, who scored four goals on the weekend and has five in the Gophers' last three contests.

"It's going well," Haula said. "We gotta have our players step up. This weekend it was me. Hopefully, next weekend, we'll get more guys on the scoreboard.

"That's my job. I want to help my team win."

After back-to-back power play goals gave No.12-seeded Alaska-Anchorage a 3-1 lead midway through the second, the Gophers tilted the ice, finally breaking through on a goal by Zach Budish at 11:16. A parade to the penalty box put the Gophers on consecutive power plays when Haula dished out his first helper of the night — the tac on a nifty tic-tac-toe goal, culminated by fellow sophomore Nick Bjugstad on the top of the crease.

After working their trademark back-door play with the man-advantage all night long, only to be stymied time and again by UAA goaltender Chris Kamal, Haula made the extra pass to a wide-open Bjugstad.

"He was a catalyst this weekend," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "He's hungry right now, as all the guys are."

Tied 3-3 intermission — one UAA needed to slow the Gopher buzz at the end of the second — the game remained in limbo until a massive defensive breakdown gave Haula a breakaway five minutes in. He slipped a the puck through Kamal's 5-hole, shaking free an offensive avalanche that buried the Seawolves and their season.

Just 18 seconds later, Haula buried one on a rebound in front. Minnesota scored two more over the course of the next four minutes.

Talk about a catalyst.

"He's been a good player for us all year and we need to have him continue," Budish said.

For Minnesota, it was a needed offensive explosion. After scoring just two Friday night in a 2-1 win where the Gophers escaped more than they won, things seemed destined for more of the same Saturday. Known for its ability to slow games down to a crawl, UAA had been executing that game-plan to perfection through the game's first 25 minutes.

Then, all Haula broke loose.

"We needed a game like that where we had to come from behind," Budish said. "It was good because a lot of guys got on the scoreboard tonight and all four lines contributed."

The victories also all but cemented Minnesota's slot in the NCAA tournament, their first berth there since 2008. Because the Gophers are hosting the regional, they are guaranteed a spot in St. Paul, no matter where they are slotted in the Pairwise.

And if the Gophers continue to get first-line production from a second liner like Haula, Minnesota has a great chance to make one final road trip of the season — to Tampa in four weeks.

"We can accomplish anything we wanted to at the beginning of the season," Haula said. "I can't say how excited our team is to head up to the X and start playing those big games."

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