MINNEAPOLIS — On an afternoon when Minnesota hockey honored its legends of the past, the current crop of Golden Gophers showed that they’re no slouches, either.
Riding a two-goal effort from Erik Westrum and the continued strong play of netminder Adam Hauser, the Gophers topped the Michigan Tech Huskies 5-1 in a Saturday matinee at Mariucci Arena. The victory, Minnesota’s fifth straight, assured the Gophers of finishing the weekend no lower than third place in the WCHA.
“That was the goal at the start of the season,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia of the Gophers’ top-three standing.
Saturday’s game — largely whistle-free and featuring a fair amount of up-and-down action — was a sharp contrast to Friday’s series opener, during which 47 penalties marred a three-hour contest.
“I think it was a little more of a Gopher game,” said John Pohl, who had three assists on the afternoon. “Tech is a big, strong team, and they want to slow you down.”
“We played better defensively,” said Lucia. “We didn’t give up as many scoring chances, and the shots were from the perimeter.”
As on Friday, Minnesota jumped out to the early lead. At 12:41 of the first period, Westrum got the puck near the far boards and circled to the top of the faceoff circle, then surprised Tech netminder Brian Rogers with a snapshot over the goalie’s left shoulder.
The Gophers extended to a 2-0 lead late in the first. A Paul Cabana trip got Minnesota its second power play of the game, and good puck movement from Pohl gave Dylan Mills a shot from the point. Grant Potulny, stationed in his usual slot position, tipped the puck under Rogers for his 13th power-play goal of the season, tops in the nation.
Play opened up further in the second, when during a 10-minute span the crowd was treated to a series of scoring chances at both ends. Included were a Cabana-Tab Lardner two-on-one; Aaron Miskovich’s point-blank stuff try that Rogers stopped low; and Westrum missing the net trailing another two-on-one.
Cabana was the perpetrator to start another MTU penalty kill, hooking Troy Riddle beside the Tech net to give the Gophers their fourth power play. Again the hosts made the Huskies pay, as Jordan Leopold’s point shot deflected through traffic for his ninth goal of the season at 17:44.
Early in the third, a bad pass by defenseman Paul Martin gave MTU the chance to get on the board. Martin, trying to clear the zone, put the puck right on the stick of Brett Engelhardt, who centered to a wide-open Jason Doetzel. Doetzel made no mistake, humming his shot past Hauser to make the score 3-1.
But the Gophers kept their cool, and restored the three-goal lead seconds after another power play had expired. With the fifth Tech skater not yet back in the play, Westrum took a cross-crease pass from Pohl and put away a hard-angle shot for his team-leading 18th goal.
Defenseman Ben Tharp accounted for the last Gopher score, whacking home Miskovich’s rebound at 17:31 to make the final 5-1.
The win came in front of members of the Minnesota hockey program’s 50 all-time greatest, who were honored at center ice during the first intermission. Both Pohl and Westrum alluded to their presence as a motivating factor.
“It’s important that we play well in front of the greatest guys ever,” said Pohl, who then acknowledged, “it’s even more important that we get the win in the league.”