MINNEAPOLIS — If you blinked, you might have missed it. Or, in this case, them.
Repeatedly slashing through the Colorado College defense, the Minnesota Golden Gophers scored early and often Friday night, overwhelming the injury-depleted Tigers 6-1 at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers notched two goals in the first six minutes of play to establish control, then sealed the deal with a pair of tallies in a 42-second span midway through the contest.
“We had a good first shift, [and] it was pretty much a buzzsaw from then on,” said John Pohl, who had two assists on the evening.
Captain Erik Westrum and defenseman Jordan Leopold each had a goal and two assists, while Adam Hauser made 29 saves to quietly backstop Minnesota to its eighth straight win. The victory kept Minnesota (23-7-2, 16-5-2 WCHA) in second place in the standings, while Colorado College (20-8-1, 15-8-0 WCHA) remained tied for third with St. Cloud, a 3-2 loser to Wisconsin Friday night.
“You can speculate on the reasons,” said CC head coach Scott Owens of the Tigers’ recent woes. “Our top guys are a little tired, and we’re so thin on the blueline corps.” Defensemen Brent Voorhees and Mike Stuart missed Friday’s game with injuries; neither is expected to play Saturday.
Riddle opened the scoring in a fashion familiar to Gopher fans, getting behind the CC defense at center ice for a one-on-one off Aaron Miskovich’s outlet pass. Riddle beat netminder Colin Zulianello high to the glove side at 3:42.
Moments later, a Joe Cullen slash put the Tigers down a man, and the potent Minnesota power play took advantage. Again it was Miskovich and Riddle teaming up on the goal — this time with Riddle working the puck behind the net, then out front for Miskovich’s one-timer.
With the Tigers seemingly shellshocked, Westrum added to the lead at 13:52. The captain took the puck from blueliner Matt DeMarchi and wrapped around the CC net for a fluttering backhander that bounced just over Zulianello’s shoulder, his team-leading 21st goal of the season.
That tally, Minnesota’s third on just seven shots, chased Zulianello — the WCHA’s best in goals against average and save percentage entering the evening — in favor of Jeff Sanger. Sanger settled matters down for the remainder of the period, and stopped 25 of 28 shots in the contest.
CC nearly got one back in the waning moments of the period, as Hauser barely covered up a loose puck after a scramble in front involving rookie phenom Peter Sejna and Mark Cullen.
But any hopes of a CC comeback were dashed minutes into the second, as the Gophers scored two bang-bang goals. Pohl started the play on the first one, skating behind the Tiger net and firing the puck out for Leopold, whose one-timer caught Sanger leaning the other way to make it 4-0.
Forty-two seconds later, Pohl was again behind the net with the biscuit, feeding Westrum out front. Westrum’s shot rebounded to rookie Grant Potulny, who poked the loose puck home at 8:11.
CC then enjoyed consecutive power plays on a borderline hook by Pat O’Leary and an obvious high-stick from DeMarchi, but the Tigers could not capitalize.
The game then got sloppy for the next several minutes until Sejna, the shoo-in for WCHA Rookie of the Year, spoiled Hauser’s shutout at 15:59, sneaking behind the play and hammering a one-timer off Cullen’s centering pass for his 20th goal.
The assist also extended Cullen’s scoring streak to 16 games.
The second period ended with a 5-1 Minnesota lead, putting the result essentially out of question. Sanger, nevertheless, stopped partial breakaways by Riddle and Matt Koalska early in the third, while Hauser deflected Alex Kim’s scoop shot to preserve the four-goal lead.
A pretty play finally gave Minnesota its sixth goal, as Erik Wendell tipped in Jon Waibel’s shot-pass from the near boards to complete the scoring.
Even with a victory so one-sided, the Gophers denied worries of a letdown on Saturday, instead pointing to the game as a critical point in the stretch run.
“If we win tomorrow, we’re six points up on CC [in the standings], instead of just two,” said Westrum.
Lucia agreed. “We’re playing for the top three, and if we win tomorrow, we’ve pretty much assured ourselves of [that],” he said.
Owens, meanwhile, was hard-pressed for answers.
“It may get better tomorrow; it may not,” Owens said. “We just have to work through it.”