Following their loss to Michigan on Friday night, the Gophers men's hockey team and coach Don Lucia stressed the need for a much-better start. After all, the Wolverines had scored 14 seconds into the series opener.
Sure enough, the Gophers did start better Saturday night. Michigan needed 59 more seconds to score first and take a lead it never would relinquish.
Brendan Warren scored at 1 minute, 13 seconds, and the Wolverines got a second goal from Josh Norris less than two minutes later, on their way to a 3-1 victory and series sweep in front of an announced 9,908 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
"We've just got to be ready from the get-go," said center Darian Romanko, who scored the Gophers' only goal. "First shift, goal, last night. Second shift, goal, tonight. It just proves that we're not ready to go."
The loss was the fifth consecutive in Big Ten play for the Gophers (13-12-1, 4-9-1-1 Big Ten), who are 1-8-1 in their past 10 conference games. The Gophers fell into sixth place in the seven-team league — and this is a program that has won all four regular-season titles in the Big Ten hockey conference's short history.
Minnesota's NCAA tournament hopes took a hit, too. With two games in Alaska still in progress late Saturday night, the Gophers had fallen into a tie for 15th in the PairWise Rankings, the formula which mimics how the NCAA fills out its 16-team postseason field. That's a dangerous spot to be in for a team seeking an at-large bid.
Michigan (10-10-2, 5-7-2-1) outshot the Gophers 28-18 and held them to two third-period shots on goal.
"We wanted to come out [in the third] and have 15 to 20 shots and really test the goalie," Gophers captain Tyler Sheehy said. "We didn't do that at all."
Michigan's first goal came after the Gophers turned the puck over in their own end, enabling Brendan Warren to skate in and beat Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn. At 3:06, with Gophers center Mike Szmatula off for tripping, Michigan's Josh Norris made it 2-0 on a feed from Jake Slaker.
The Gophers didn't register their first shot on goal until 8:04 had expired in the first. During the second period with Minnesota still scoreless, fans — with Sunday's Vikings-Saints playoff game on their minds — began the Vikings' "Skol" chant and later sang "Skol, Vikings."
Romanko energized the crowd with a power-play goal with 4:34 left in the second period, but Michigan responded with Cooper Marody's power-play goal with 2:41 left in the period to make it 3-1.
In the third, the Gophers didn't get their first shot on goal of the period until 5:20 had expired. They had only one more the rest of the game.
"As the game progressed, sometimes we got in our own way — the harder you try, the worse it gets kind of deal," Lucia said. "… You think you're going to solve it all yourself. Hockey doesn't work that way."
Romanko sees a team that needs to start pulling for each other.
"We've got to get everyone on the same page and buy into the system," the junior said. "It's not necessarily a lack of chemistry between the guys, but we have to build upon that chemistry, whether it's here at the rink or outside the rink."
MICHIGAN 3, GOPHERS MEN 1 Thursday: 5:30 p.m. at Michigan State (BTN)