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Gophers Hockey: On losing nonconference momentum and a two-goal third period lead

A win in grasp wasn't the only loss Minnesota had Saturday. Its momentum, coming off of a 4-1 stretch, also disappeared.

Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

Once a train trying to get out of the blocks with its brakes still on, the Gophers spent the first 56 minutes Saturday night playing like a team that had found a cruising speed built up over the last month.

Minnesota led the Mavericks of Minnesota State 2-0 at home with late goals in each of the first and second periods. The Gophers had yet to give up a goal on the weekend, seemingly heading to its fifth win in sixth games. Even in the loss during that earlier stretch, a 4-3 defeat where Notre Dame scored in the final two minutes, Minnesota had clawed its way back from a two goal deficit.

Lines connected. The defense played as unit. Players who have subtly and not so subtly been mentioned by the coaching staff as needing to perform better got on the scoreboard.

"I think I'm playing with a little more confidence," said Minnesota captain Justin Kloos, who scored his third goal in as many games. "Obviously it's frustrating not getting off to the start individually I wanted, and our team didn't as well, but you don't really think about that after this one."

The "this one" is the key. Bryce Gervais tipped a Casey Nelson shot with 3:32 remaining to kick off a Minnesota State comeback. 2-0 Gophers became 3-2 Mavericks in a span of 8 minutes of ice time.

Screech. Halt. Brakes applied. Dead animal on the track.

"It stings. It stings bad right now," Kloos said.

Consistency is something that Gopher head coach Don Lucia has been preaching to his team, which is now 4-5-0 after a 0-3 start. If the non-conference portion of the schedule is meant to shore up a lineup that is building to a 20 game Big Ten game schedule, the way Saturday's loss came is a giant red "don't" sign for January and February games that have a point or three on the line.

Don't ice the puck 5 feet from the red line. Don't take long shifts in the third period. Don't. Sooner or later the unlucky puck luck a threatening team has will turn around if said team gets enough chances.

"It's about learning how to play in those situations. Even earlier with 5 minutes to go and we make a flat pass inside the blue line and it gets picked off, those things create momentum too," Lucia said about his team's disappointing ending.

Oddly, Saturday's game ended up being a nonconference loss that feels like points on the line. It didn't feel like one until the Mavericks celebrated in the corner, mobbing overtime hero Teddy Blueger when Minnesota State took its first, and only, lead of the weekend to garner a series split. Points or not, Minnesota's performance down the stretch was the one it has spent the past three game weekends trying to avoid.

Saturday felt like a conference loss because of how far the performances - ones which Kloos, not one to mince words, called "garbage" as recently as Minnesota's 3-0 loss to Minnesota Duluth less than a month ago - have come in that timeframe.

Four weeks to four minutes to forgoing the Battle Hymn.

"I think we're improving. Obviously the last four minutes are ones I don't want to see, but I think we're improving when we're coming up the rink, and when we're in the zone and it made a lot of difference," Lucia said "That's judging on that too.

"Now we have to learn at the end of the game, how we got to play at the end of the game."

Before to get back moving the train, Minnesota has two weeks to digest. There are video clips to watch, moments to relive and forget. Coaches and players both know that.

The good comes with the bad.

"I felt like we deserved to win that and we played well the whole game. We didn't give up a whole lot and then all of a sudden ‘boom boom' and tie game. Goes into OT and they score," said defenseman Jake Bischoff. "You definitely got to learn from it and then push it aside and forget about it. There's a lot of stuff we can teach perhaps in the last couple minutes in there that we can learn from, but then after that we are just going to push it aside and move on."

How much losing momentum in November gets digested and pushed away could tell a lot about this team trying to stay at speed and gain some in the final stretches of the season.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --