MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Golden Gophers entered Saturday night with a four-game losing streak during which the Gophers had scored just four goals — their lowest output since the Truman administration.
The Quinnipiac Braves were coming off a win over then-No. 11 Union, looking for a second straight victory against a ranked opponent in the first-ever MAAC-WCHA contest.
All signs pointed to a close game. Instead, the fans at Mariucci Arena saw a blowout, as Minnesota scored four first-period goals and never let Quinnipiac back into the game en route to a 11-2 victory. Senior winger Stuart Senden netted his first career hat trick, and Nick Anthony and Jeff Taffe had three points apiece.
“I think we needed that,” said alternate captain Dylan Mills of the runaway victory. “We got a new outlook on things this week.”
“We adjust our game to every team we play, and we adjusted to them,” said Senden of the Gophers’ attack, which left the Braves down four goals before the end of one.
“In the locker room, the guys feel awful,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold, “but I hope this will make us a better hockey team in the long run …. Our strength is our competitiveness.”
Paul Martin got the Gophers out of their offensive doldrums in a hurry, scoring seven seconds after the opening drop of the puck. Centerman Taffe won the faceoff back to Martin, who skated to the blue line and let go a fluttering shot that hit a Quinnipiac defender’s stick. Goalie Justin Eddy never got a handle on it, giving Martin his first collegiate goal and Minnesota the 1-0 lead.
“The first one is a shot from a little bit out — it tips off our D’s stick and goes in,” said Eddy. “In a place like this, you’ve got to have your A-plus game.
“I was nervous … but that’s no excuse. We’ve been nervous before other games.”
“I’ve been on that side,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia of the underdog Braves. “As a coach, you’re saying ‘If we can just play well the first 10 minutes,’ and then the first shot goes in.”
A Matt DeMarchi roughing penalty got Quinnipiac its first power play almost eight minutes in, but the Braves were unable to muster a shot on goal during the man advantage. Instead, John Pohl extended the Gopher lead to two at 12:27, stuffing home the rebound of an Erik Westrum shot from the left circle for his eighth goal of the season.
Penalties against QU defensemen Anthony DiPalma and Matt Erhart gave the Gophers nearly four minutes of continuous power play; Minnesota capitalized on the second penalty, as Grant Potulny cleaned up a long rebound of Jordan Leopold’s shot, chipping it over a fallen Eddy from 15 feet.
That goal snapped an 0-for-19 drought for the Minnesota power play, but the fireworks weren’t over. Off a faceoff with four minutes left in the period, Senden outfought two other players for the puck and ripped a wrister past Eddy on the far side for a 4-0 lead.
A wild second period ensued, with great efforts and even more sloppy play on both sides. The Braves got on the board at 1:54; a turnover in the defensive zone produced a two-on-one, which Chris Cerrella converted off a nice drop pass from Chris Maniatis.
A three-man effort produced the fifth Minnesota goal. Breaking up the right side, Martin fed Anthony in the slot, and Anthony’s backhand pass cross-crease gave Senden the whole net to work with. Senden didn’t miss, stuffing the puck into the left corner for his second goal of the night.
The home-ice advantage became a tangible thing monents later, as DeMarchi scored on a bizarre bounce off the far boards. The Minnesota blueliner’s dump attempt from center ice hit one of the metal supports along the glass and went straight into an empty net, as Eddy had left the crease in expectation of playing the puck at the rear boards.
“I’m glad that happens in an 11-2 game, instead of later in the year when it’s 3-2,” said Pecknold.
The Braves rebounded immediately, with Brian Herbert netting his fifth goal of the year after Chad Poliquin’s shot was stopped an inch in front of the goal line. Minnesota, however, got another strange goal at the 16-minute mark, a Mills wrister from the left point that just hopped over the netminder’s outstretched glove to make it 7-2.
J.C. Wells replaced Eddy to start the third period, and held Minnesota off the scoreboard until Troy Riddle’s redirection of Nick Angell’s shot-pass halfway through the frame. Westrum made it 9-2 with his team-leading 11th goal of the year, taking the pass from Pohl and skating across the high slot for a wrister into the left corner of the net at 11:14.
Senden completed his first career hat trick less than two minutes later, getting free in front of Wells and one-timing Matt Koalska’s pass from the near corner under the netminder’s pads.
So complete was Minnesota’s control of the third period that third-string netminder Erik Young replaced Hauser with six-plus minutes left, and saved Quinnipiac’s first shot on goal of the period seconds later.
Anthony rounded out the scoring with a redirection of Koalska’s pass in the final minute for a nine-goal victory. Senden, though was thinking of a potential rematch.
“They could go to the national tournament,” Senden said, referring to the MAAC’s newly-acquired autobid. “So we could see them again down the line if we take care of our business.”