Just as the audience began to lose excitement, with 2:43 left on the clock, CC’s forward Scott Winkler skated Minnesota’s number 12 into the glass, checking him so hard that the glass shattered along the boards.
Three minutes earlier, with 5:30 left in the final period, the Tigers missed an open net shot just wide of the rails in a close shuffle around the net. In desperation, Head Coach Scott Owens pulled Howe to energize the offense, yet the Gophers squeezed in another goal with 1:08 left on the open net to secure a comfortable 4-2 cushion going into the last minute of play.
Despite the uneven score, goalie Joe Howe fought to keep the Tigers alive as he made 27 saves against the fourth in the country University of Minnesota Gophers last Friday, Dec. 7.
The Gophers struck first on a power play goal 7:36 into the first period, and by the end of the second period had outshot the Tigers 20 to 15, with Howe already racking up 18 saves. Minnesota struck again 13:12 into the second period on a breakaway goal as the Tigers defense struggled to keep up once more. Most of the possession occurred around the midline, including many hard hits at both ends as the Tigers went down 2-0.
“It’s pretty well known that they [have] got a three corner offense,” Howe said. “They’ve got some high end players especially on their top line…we had a few breakdowns but that’s expected.”
After multiple power plays in the first and second periods, the Tigers continued scoreless until the end of the second period. With only 5:03 left on the clock, Tigers’ forward Archie Skalbeck scored CC’s first goal, with assists by forward Rylan Schwartz and Captain William Rapuzzi. The CC defense held strong in the second period, with a great stop by defender Ian Young in a shuffle that dislodged Howe’s net. The Tigers continued to move forward in transition offense, and the Minnesota defense held until, with 3:22 left in the second, Rapuzzi wrapped around the goal beautifully to lay a backhand into the Minnesota net, tying the game 2-2.
“They’re pretty good defensively because they’re always playing offense…but once we got them in their defensive zone and we controlled the puck more…we started having better opportunities,” Skalbeck said.
Tension between players rose as Gophers’ Travis Boyd took out Howe in the net, followed by a shuffle between one of CC’s assistant captains Joe Marciano, and Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad as they went to blows. Both CC’s forward Jared Hanson and Minnesota’s Jared Rau received penalties 17:10 into the second. Supported by some big hits by defender Mike Boivin, the Tigers finished the second period 2-2 looking to break the tie and shift the momentum in the third and final period.
In a highly contested third period, the CC defense began to form a solid wall against the opposing Gophers. Howe made a massive breakaway save 5:10 into the period on a misdirected pass by the Tigers around the net. The offense continued to try and score on power play opportunities. Howe saved another big shot with 6:47 left to give the Tigers’ offense momentum, but again Minnesota jumped to a 3-2 lead with 6:37 left in a chaotic shuffle around the net.
“Howe has been playing very good especially in his past few starts, and he gave us a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for from your goalie,” Rapuzzi said.
In an exciting finish, Howe back in the net, the Tigers battled for any shot in the last minute with no success. Another fight broke out with 10 seconds left in the game as CC’s forward Charlie Taft and Minnesota’s Seth Helgeson threw punches to end the loss 4-2. The Gophers ended up outshooting the Tigers 31-26.
“They’re a good transition, transition team…we tried not to play into their system, not to turn the puck over, tried to chip and chase more…and when we did that it worked, but sometimes we didn’t do it enough,” Skalbeck said.
The bigger focus for the Tigers in upcoming games remains playing the game from the drop of the puck, according to Skalbeck.
“That’s kind of the million dollar question…it’s just something we gotta work on as a team and take small steps,” Howe said. “[And] make sure guys are prepared…it’s just something we gotta focus extra hard on.”
“We’re in all of the games that we play against all these top teams in the nation,” Skalbeck said. “We just can’t figure out how to put together a first period…cause when we start putting together a full 60 minutes, a full three periods if we want to have a chance at doing something at the end of the season.”
On Saturday night, CC tied Minnesota 4-4. The offensive charge was lead by junior wing Alexander Krushelnyski’s two goals, one coming with 24 seconds left in regulation. The tie and loss leaves them 8-8-2 on the season. The Tigers look to break .500 as they face-off in Minnesota against St. Cloud State University on Dec. 14.