The final period Saturday night in Minneapolis was special in many ways. Michigan Tech tied the game early in the third period on Daniel Sova’s power play goal. After that, things got interesting. Sova chose that moment to shush the Gopher student section as he celebrated the goal with his teammates and then the Gophers decided it was time to actually show up for the game because Michigan Tech wasn’t going to let them win simply for being the Pride on Ice.
Minnesota took the lead just two minutes later on a goal from Mark Alt, the eventual player of the game. After about six minutes of back-and-forth hockey, Minnesota extended their lead with goals from Bjugstad and Miller just over two minutes apart to make it 5–2 Gophers. For three more minutes it was a relatively peaceful hockey game. Then the wheels started to fall off.
Blake Pietila took a boarding penalty with just over three minutes left to give Minnesota a power play. Shortly after this penalty is where our video titled “Closing Highlights” begins. Each incident from here on out will have a timestamp from our video so you can follow along. While on that power play, Dennis Rix let out some frustration by hitting Kyle Rau in the helmet with his stick (replay @ 2:50). Rau followed that up with his best Robby Earl impression. Some of the Michigan Tech faithful suddenly thought they were at the University Aquatic Center instead of a hockey game. Bjugstad came to the defense of Rau and Jordan Baker appeared to hit Bjugstad and argue with the refs enough to receive a 10-minute misconduct penalty (1:22).
On the ensuing 5-on-3 power play (3:28), Jake Hansen and Steven Seigo started getting very physical in front of the net (3:56) and when Hansen eventually put away the rebound off of Haula’s shot, both Hansen and Seigo continued going at it until the refs pulled them apart. Bjugstad, Hansen and Seigo all received 2-minute roughing penalties. Anthony LaPanta, who apparently isn’t well liked by Gopher fans either, begins to complain that Seigo did not get a penalty, even though he clearly did get sent to the penalty box. What LaPanta failed to realize is that only one of the three penalties went on the scoreboard because the other two offset. If he had just looked down into the penalty box, he would have seen Seigo sitting there next to Rix. With the score now 6–2, the next puck dropped with four skaters on each side (6:36).
It didn’t take long for things to escalate once more as Helgeson decided to begin checking anything that moves, first with a cross-check to Olson (6:44), after that he gets tied up on the boards with Nielsen, helmets and fists flying (6:51). Both Helgeson and Nielsen clearly threw punches but the linesmen were there pretty quickly and the refs decided to call each player for two roughing penalties and a 10-minute misconduct. Originally Goon’s World had reported that the initial release of the box score showed each player received three roughing penalties. That may have been the end of penalties on the box score, but things had yet to reach a peak.
It took the referees quite a while to sort out the penalties on Helgeson and Nielsen. While they were busy discussing what to call within the referee’s crease, tensions began to mount between the benches. It appears that some Michigan Tech players and the Gophers head coach, Don Lucia, began to exchange words (8:50). Whatever the Don said to Olson, MacLeod and Stebner did not sit well with Huskies assistant Bill Muckalt, because he began to yell over the glass at the Gopher coaches (8:58). The linesmen climbed the boards and attempted to get Bill, Don and Gopher assistant Grant Potulny to simmer down and stop standing on the bench seats, but not before Bill told Grant to “Come on, come on over!” To which Grant responded, “Sit the #@$% down!”
Anthony LaPanta then decided to chime in with a silly comment about how this was more like the Michigan Tech teams we’ve seen over the last 6 or 7 years. Michigan Tech is apparently known more for “this kind of stuff than winning hockey games” (9:19). It’s nice to know that Anthony LaPanta thinks Michigan Tech is a goon squad. He also reiterates his confusion over why Steven Seigo did not receive a penalty, which was already been explained. Later, the Gopher student section actually started chanting “Don Lucia” (10:20). The game finally resumed (11:33) and the final minutes ended without incident.
After the final whistle, the referees immediately signaled for Michigan Tech to go directly off the ice to their locker room. After much discussion, Mel Pearson brought his players together and lined them up for the traditional handshake. Thankfully for everyone involved, there were no incidents and cooler heads did eventually prevail. Both head coaches were probably happy to see the refs chose not to award any fighting majors but clearly these refs let things get out of hand by not making the tougher calls at various points throughout the game including what should have been fighting majors for Helgeson and Nielsen.
Both Mel Pearson and Don Lucia were asked questions about the incident on their Monday radio shows. Dirk Hembroff of Mix 93 FM in Hancock asked Pearson for some background and insight into the argument between Muckalt and the Gopher coaches. Here is what he had to say:
Dirk followed that up with a question about whether this shows the team the coach’s passion and respect for the players by fighting for the team. Mel responded by saying:[quote]No question, if you read the comments from their player [Joe] Miller about Don Lucia, I mean he said they’re happy. They said it was great that Coach Lucia went off and had their back and what not. I think our guys will probably feel the same way about Billy. He’s very passionate about Michigan Tech and he treats our players like his own kids. Unfortunately, it got a little too heated but at the end of the day, it will all blow over and we’ll get on with things and play our next game.[/quote]
Hosts Joe Anderson and Wally Shaver asked Don Lucia a few questions about the incident, too. Here’s what Don had to say:
The hosts followed that up with a question as to whether college age players should be able to handle their frustrations better when one team pulls away like the Gophers did. His response:[quote]For the most part it was a cleanly played, well disciplined weekend. I think all of a sudden, we just started to pull away at the end and you put so much into it and the game was tied early in the third period. Really it becomes one or two plays that maybe you say you’d like to have done something different. So the trash talking got going there at the end. It kind of escalated. Mel and I will talk tried to touch base and will talk tomorrow. The good thing is that it ended peacefully and nothing more came of it.[/quote]
Stephen Anderson (@steander) caught up with Coach Muckalt and had some wonderful quotes in his weekly column. Here is some of what he had to say: [quote]I’d prefer not to really discuss it. I got my point across. Hockey is a passionate emotional game, and as coaches we stand up for our players and support our players. We’re proud of our players and really that’s all there is to it.[/quote]
That pretty much sums up what happen in the final 20 minutes of Saturday night’s 6–2 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers and what the coaches involved had to say about it. Don’t expect the WCHA to punish any of the coaches involved. Roman Augustoviz asked Doug Spencer, WCHA associate commissioner for public relations, and it doesn’t sound like the WCHA will get involved. Even though both sides have said it’s over, there is one place that this story won’t end: Twitter. Apparently @fakeBillMuckalt is trying to get in on the action and pick a fight with @fakeDonLucia on twitter. Only time will tell if anything comes of that.
Tim is a 2004 graduate of Michigan Tech. He is a co-founder of both Mitch’s Misfits and Tech Hockey Guide. With recent additions to the staff, Tim is again able to focus on his passion, recruiting. He currently works as an environmental engineer and resides in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area.