In the first four years of the Big Ten hockey conference, the Gophers had their way with the league during the regular season, never losing more than six games in conference play and claiming every title.
This season, the rest of the conference is exacting its revenge.
Michigan scored 14 seconds into Friday night's series opener at 3M Arena at Mariucci, led by two goals after one period and held on for a 5-3 victory before an announced crowd of 9,000. The loss dropped the Gophers to 4-8-1-1 in Big Ten play, including four consecutive conference losses and six in the past seven games.
Minnesota (13-11-1 overall) fell into a fifth-place tie with Wisconsin in the seven-team league. Both are one point behind the Wolverines.
"Obviously, [Big Ten] teams are getting closer and closer [in parity],'' Gophers senior forward Leon Bristedt said. "It's not about the Big Ten. It's more about us. We've shown that we can win against good teams; we're just not doing it in the Big Ten.''
Gophers sophomore goalie Mat Robson, so sharp in a 34-save shutout of then-No. 1 St. Cloud State on Sunday, got his first series-opening start. It didn't go well, with Michigan's Dexter Dancs beating him on the game's first shot. The Wolverines got two more goals on nine shots by the end of the first, and Robson was pulled in favor of Eric Schierhorn for the second.
"We had a bad start, and it kind of went downhill from there,'' Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "Michigan couldn't have drawn it up and better — create a turnover in the neutral zone, score on their first shot.''
Though the Gophers tied it 1-1 on freshman Casey Mittelstadt's goal 2:21 into the first, Michigan (9-10-2, 4-7-2-1) added two goals later in the period — one by Michael Pastujov off a skate at 8:13 and the other when top-line center Cooper Marody, alone in the slot, blasted one past Robson for a 3-1 lead with 1:50 left.
"They were able to play with the lead, and we chased the game,'' Lucia said.
Minnesota carried play for most of the second, holding Michigan without a shot on goal for the first 10:40. And the Gophers cut the Wolverines' lead to 3-2 on freshman Scott Reedy's goal off a rebound of a Bristedt shot on a power play. That goal ended the Gophers' 0-for-29 drought with the man advantage.
Michigan, however, took a 4-2 lead with 1:59 left when Brendan Warren's shot trickled past Schierhorn. Lucia challenged for offsides, but the goal stood. "It was really close,'' said Lucia, who had a successful offside challenge vs. St. Cloud State on Sunday. "I just felt it was a big goal and was worth the risk.''
The Gophers, who outshot Michigan 27-19, cut the lead to 4-3 with 3:38 left in the third when freshman Brannon McManus scored on a juicy rebound off a Tyler Sheehy shot.
Down a goal, the Gophers had a chance for the equalizer after Michigan's Dakota Raabe took a tripping penalty with 42 seconds left. With Schierhorn pulled, the Gophers had a 6-on-4, but Steve Johnson lost the puck at the blue line, and Warren scored an empty-netter with 29 seconds to play.
"Bottom line is we're not playing good enough,'' Bristedt said. "Captains, myself — we've got to pick our game up. … Obviously, this is not OK, the way we played today.''