MANKATO, Minn. — The Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-7-2 overall, 14-5-2 WCHA) played poor guests as they beat the hosting MSU-Mankato Mavericks (17-11-1 overall, 11-9-1 WCHA) Friday in the Gophers’ first-ever trip to Mankato.
Playing in front of a crowd of 4,931, the second-largest ever at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center, the Gophers received huge play from captain Erik Westrum, who tallied two goals and two assists, and junior goaltender Adam Hauser, who made 28 saves.
Westrum’s four points on the night made 150 for his career.
“The bottom line is that our captain played a great game tonight,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “And when Erik plays really well our whole team seems to play really well.”
“I’m supposed to be the leader of the team and I just want the guys to follow me,” said Westrum.
The early story, however, was Hauser. MSU came out flying and dominated the opening minutes. However, despite having two power-play chances in the first 12 minutes of the game, the Mavericks were unable to score.
While UM defenseman Matt DeMarchi was off for hooking at the 4:08 mark, MSU forward T. J. Guidarelli carried the puck into the zone, danced around the defense, and let a wrist shot loose in the slot. Hauser made a spectacular kick-save to keep the puck out of the net.
After making two saves on MSU’s Joe Bourne, Hauser came up with his biggest stop of the night 11 minutes into the contest. With DeMarchi in the box again, Maverick forward Jerry Cunningham took a pass from the left corner and found himself all alone at the right side in front. He fired the puck on net, but Hauser, diving from right to left, made a spectacular kick-save by stacking the pads.
Next, it was Minnesota’s turn on the power-play. The Gophers brought the nation’s top power-play unit into Friday night’s contest and did not disappoint. With MSU’s Peter Holoien off for cross checking, defenseman Jordan Leopold fired a shot from the blue line that went through traffic and was deflected by Westrum for his first tally of the night.
After Hauser made another unbelievable save on MSU’s B. J. Abel with five minutes left in the period, Minnesota again had a power-play opportunity.
Junior John Pohl, camped out on the left side of the net, received a great pass from Westrum and was all alone in front with Maverick goalie Eric Pateman. His first shot hit the crossbar, but bounced perfectly back to the forward, who put the rebound in. That goal at the 17:32 mark made the score 2-0.
Minnesota had a chance to take a 3-0 lead into intermission, but Pateman stopped Aaron Miskovich’s shorthanded breakaway with 20 seconds remaining to keep his team within two.
The second period started just the way the first period had ended. Hauser made additional key saves, and the Gophers outworked the Mavericks to score their third goal 8:23 in.
After Minnesota’s top line cycled the puck in the corners for over a minute, freshman Grant Potulny finished the play from the slot. Potulny took the puck from Pohl and fired a laser shot past Pateman for his 17th goal of the year.
Halfway through the second, the Mavericks seemed to be getting back into the game as they received two power-play chances. However, Hauser continued his bid for a shutout by stopping Cunningham and freshman Tim Jackman on good scoring chances.
The Gophers put the game away for good at the 15:13 mark with Westrum’s second tally of the night. Westrum took the puck from the right corner, moved in untouched and cut across the crease. As Pateman went down, Westrum backhanded the puck past the sprawled goalie for his 150th career point.
MSU had a chance to get into the game early in the third but UM was able to kill off a 5-on-3 advantage for the Mavericks.
Mankato was able to deny Hauser a shutout at the 10:35 mark. Defenseman Andy Hedlund took the puck from one end of the ice to the other and wristed the puck past Hauser from the top of the right circle for his sixth goal of the year.
However, the goal wasn’t enough to power the Mavericks through Minnesota’s stingy defense, as the game ended 4-1.
Lucia and Westrum both felt the power play was the key to the victory. The Gophers went 2-5 with the extra skater, while MSU went 0-8.
“Once we got the power play going, it seemed to take the steam out of everything,” remarked Lucia. “We seemed to take control of the game from there.”
“I don’t think there’s too many penalty kills that can stop the different looks we have,” added Westrum. “When our power play is doing well, that starts the fire for us.”
MSU head coach Troy Jutting was happy with his team’s chances, but praised Hauser for preserving the win.
“I don’t think we played our best hockey game, but we created a fair number of chances and their goaltender made some big saves throughout the game. I thought Adam made some great saves on the power play.
“We got behind the eight-ball and never really recovered,” explained Jutting. “They’re a great hockey team.”
The two teams will finish their series Saturday night with game time set for 7:05.