After a furious Minnesota rally that erased a 3-0 deficit, the 17th-ranked Gophers dropped a 4-3 heartbreaker to Alaska Anchorage in its WCHA playoff opener at Mariucci Arena on Friday night. The defeat was UM's first all-time loss in regulation in postseason play at Mariucci Arena, dropping its first-round home record to 26-2 since opening the rink in 1993. The other loss also came against UAA, a 2-1 overtime decision on March 10, 2007.
After a relatively quiet start to the game, the Seawolves got the scoring going with 36.9 seconds remaining in the first period. A shot by UAA's Tommy Grant was stopped by Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson, but Sean Wiles pounced on the rebound to give Alaska Anchorage a one-goal edge heading into the first intermission.
UAA didn't waste much time adding to its lead in the second stanza.
Just under two minutes into the period, Jade Portwood took a one-time feed from Craig Parkinson and beat Patterson five-hole from the high slot to make it 2-0. With 20 seconds left on a Gopher power play just before the midway point in the game, Alex Gellert intercepted a Patterson clearing pass, skated in alone, and slid the puck into the lower left corner to make it a three-goal game.
That's when the Gopher rally began.
With Minnesota on the man-advantage, UAA's Curtis Leinweber hauled down Jake Hansen on a breakaway and the UM junior winger was awarded the team's first penalty shot since Oct. 21, 2005 when Phil Kessel scored against Minnesota State. On the attempt, Hansen did some quick stickhandling before beating Seawolf netminder Chris Kamal through the legs with a quick snapshot. It was the first goal the Gophers scored on the freshman goalie in 92:12 of play. He shutout UM 1-0 on Jan 29.
Only 16 seconds after Hansen's marker, defenseman Aaron Ness picked the top left corner with a slapshot from the point to trim the Alaska Anchorage lead to one. It was his second tally of the season and first since Jan. 28 with he completed the scoring in a 5-1 win over the Seawolves.
With a 8:42 left in the final frame, Kevin Wehrs completed an end-to-end rush and the Gopher comeback with a blast from the right circle that beat Kamal over the right shoulder.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the momentum from Wehrs' goal didn't last long. Erik Haula was whistled down for a slashing penalty and UAA's Mitch Bruijsten took a no-look backhand shot from the hash marks that went off the right post and in on the ensuing power play. Bruijsten's goal gave the Seawolves a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
With Patterson pulled in the final minute, Gopher captain Jay Barriball rang a shot off the crossbar and UM was unable to score the tying goal.
The win was Alaska Anchorage's fifth ever win in WCHA first round playoff action and puts them one victory away from its second trip to the WCHA Final Five.
Now in a 1-0 hole in the series, Minnesota will need to win in the 7 p.m. rematch on Saturday at Mariucci Arena to force a decisive third game on Sunday and keep its season alive.