MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even vaguely attractive. But for eighth-ranked Minnesota, it was a win.
Tuesday night at Mariucci Arena, Minnesota pulled out a 3-1 decision over visiting Brown thanks to Grant Potulny, who broke open a 1-1 deadlock with two late power-play scores.
The rookie winger now has five goals in his last two games, after a hat trick Saturday against Wisconsin. Tuesday, his heroics salted away a victory in a game that was every bit the grinding struggle that Brown might have hoped.
“Brown played a smart, patient game and kept us on the perimeter,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “And at times, we were happy to be there.”
The opening minutes were ugly, ugly hockey, including a raft of bad passes by the Gophers, who showed a tendency to try to dance around defenders instead of finding the open man. Twice, captain Erik Westrum passed up scoring opportunities trying to stickhandle for a better angle, neither of which panned out.
At the other end, Brown offered little pressure on Minnesota netminder Adam Hauser (17 saves), going without a shot on goal until almost the 11-minute mark and then allowing Minnesota to get on the scoreboard first. After defenseman Paul Martin’s long shot hit traffic and fell free in the crease, Matt Koalska jammed home the loose puck for his seventh goal of the season at 12:33.
Five minutes later, Brown’s Chris Legg erased the possibility of a shutout by taking a neat cross-ice pass from John Petricig and beating the Gophers’ Nick Angell — who was caught pinching in — around the corner. From there, the Edmonton Oilers’ sixth-rounder proceeded directly to the net, stuffing the puck under Hauser for his third goal.
In the second the Bears continued to trap, putting bodies on the Gophers and keeping them away from the net. For Minnesota, the best chance in the middle period came on Troy Riddle’s stuff attempt. However, Brown netminder Brian Eklund (30 saves) closed the five-hole, one of several quality saves he would make on the evening.
A Gopher power play produced some open shots, but most never got to the net as the Bears continued to pile traffic in the slot. Meanwhile, Doug Janjevich nearly gave the Bears the lead at 17:00 by stepping through the defense for a point-blank attempt, but he couldn’t quite beat Hauser.
That left the game tied after 40 minutes of play, despite Minnesota holding a substantial territorial edge — not to mention a 23-7 advantage in shots on goal.
“I told them after the second that we were playing one-on-one hockey,” said Lucia. “[The Bears] trap and they play back, and you’re not going to get through that way.”
Despite Lucia’s advice to his charges, the third period was no different for 10 minutes as Minnesota continued to have a hard time connecting on passes. That, combined with a number of turnovers after passing up shots, led to the crowd yelling “Shoot!” every time a Gopher got anywhere near the net with the puck.
Finally, the Gophers got the break they needed when Brown blueliner Josh Barker was caught tripping Koalska behind the Bears’ net at 10:23 of the third. With Brown aggressively pursuing the puck, enough space was left in the middle for Riddle to hit Potulny in the high slot, and the freshman’s one-timer found its way through Eklund to make it 2-1 Minnesota at 11:29.
“He’s got a good stick in front of the net,” said Lucia of Potulny. “Not everybody can do that.”
Potulny, however, was quick to deflect praise.
“When I get out there sometimes, it’s not me doing the work,” he said. “My teammates have the stickhandling skills.
“I’ve got the easy job.”
Afterward, a Jon Waibel high-stick gave Brown a chance to answer on the power play, but despite effective puck movement, the Bears could not score.
Instead, a borderline tripping call on Brown’s Paul Esdale — who might have given Potulny a little tug while Potulny drove to the Brown net — gave Minnesota a chance to widen the lead. The Gophers did just that, as Westrum’s diagonal pass gave Riddle half the net to work with. Eklund managed to stop Riddle’s shot, but was in no position to cover the rebound, leaving Potulny an easy tap-in for his 14th goal of the year.
Brown made it interesting in the final minutes, pulling Eklund at 18:07 and then getting a six-on-four power play after Matt DeMarchi took an interference penalty behind the Gopher net. But despite constant pressure in the last two minutes, the Bears could not score, leaving the final 3-1.
Minnesota (17-7-2) next hosts Bemidji State for a nonconference game Saturday, while Brown (4-13-2) takes the weekend off before facing Cornell and Colgate Feb. 2 and 3 in Providence.