MINNEAPOLIS — If Colorado College head coach Scott Owens had had his way, Minnesota winger Troy Riddle would be a Tiger today. In that case, the outcome of Saturday’s CC-Minnesota contest might have been very different.
Riddle — who played for Owens’ old Des Moines squad in the United States Hockey League — scored two goals as the No. 4 Gophers won their ninth straight game, 4-1 over the Tigers Saturday night.
“Just knowing that … I almost went [to CC] myself,” said Riddle, a former Tiger recruit, “it’s really exciting.”
The victory was again made possible by strong team defense, led by goaltender Adam Hauser, who made 21 saves; for the weekend, Hauser gave up just two goals on 52 CC shots as the Gophers (24-7-2, 17-5-2 WCHA) secured their grip on second place in the conference.
“They’re such an underrated team defensively,” said Owens. “It’s tough to get second shots. … And it’s not just Hauser; that defensive corps has really come together.”
The decision also completed a sweep of the sixth-ranked Tigers, despite 38 saves from CC netminder Jeff Sanger.
“We were getting outshot badly [42-22 for the game], but we were playing with heart tonight,” said Owens. “Our goaltender gave us a chance.”
Despite the loss, fourth-place Colorado College (20-9-1, 15-9-0 WCHA) put in a much better effort than on Friday, when the Tigers were steamrolled early.
“Believe it or not, this was actually a step in the right direction,” said Owens, “given the last two games.”
“I was just happy with the way we played tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “CC played better — we knew they would — and Sanger was great.”
Saturday’s contest was much more even, especially in the early going. Wide-open skating characterized the first period, despite several penalties away from the puck which resulted in most of the period being played on special teams.
Four power plays (two for each side) came and went without note before Chris Hartsburg’s high-stick put Minnesota on its third man-advantage. In the waning seconds of the power play, Riddle took the puck from Jeff Taffe and beat defender Mike Colgan around the corner, cutting across the goalmouth and sending a backhander past a diving Sanger.
Minnesota’s lead was short-lived — very short, in fact. Thirty-six seconds after Riddle’s goal, Hartsburg atoned for his penalty by knotting things up on a CC power play.
With UM forward Erik Wendell in the box for hooking, Peter Sejna’s point shot deflected through traffic to Hartsburg, who redirected the puck under Hauser for his eighth goal of the year at 17:32 of the first. Mark Cullen notched the second assist, extending his scoring streak to 17 games.
The tempo increased further in the second period before the Gophers’ potent power play again came through. Streaking up the right side, Erik Westrum let fly a backhanded shot-pass at waist level that Grant Potulny swatted into the net in one motion. The goal, at 8:08, was Potulny’s 19th of the season, including a national-best 14 on the power play.
Minutes later, Minnesota came within a whisker of extending its lead as Aaron Miskovich’s hard-angle shot banged off the far post, skimmed along the goal line and hit Sanger’s skate before the junior was able to freeze the puck. The red light came on briefly, and a five-minute delay ensued as the officials consulted first the video, then the goal judge before correctly waving the tally off.
The second period ended without further scoring, belying Minnesota’s near-total dominance. For the stanza, the Gophers outshot the Tigers 18-3 and outattempted them 25-7, but Sanger made several brilliant saves to keep CC within one.
Early in the third CC mustered its best pressure of the night, peppering Hauser with shots from all angles. The best chance came as Colin Stuart centered Noah Clarke, but Hauser slid back to make a spectacular kick-save on the sophomore’s one-timer.
Seconds later, bidding for the insurance goal, Westrum whipped a backhander from the right side at the net, but a prone Sanger reached up to snag the puck to keep the score 2-1.
Instead, Riddle put the game away, taking a lead pass from Taffe and going in two-on-one with Miskovich. Riddle kept the puck himself and fired, then roofed the rebound over Sanger’s glove to secure the win at 15:25.
With Sanger out of the CC nets, Miskovich added an empty-netter to make the final a deceptively easy-looking 4-1.
Minnesota — which trails North Dakota by three points in the WCHA standings with two games in hand — visits Minnesota-Duluth for two next Friday and Saturday, while Colorado College tries to regroup by hosting Wisconsin.
“Coming to the end of the season, we’re gelling at the right moment,” said Riddle of the Gophers’ playoff aspirations. But his coach sounded a note of caution.
“We’ve got to stay on an even keel,” said Lucia. “This was an important weekend, but it doesn’t mean much if we stumble next weekend.”