MINNEAPOLIS — After a comparatively easy victory Friday over Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota’s players and coaches insisted they would avoid a letdown in the rematch.
The Golden Gophers did just that with a 5-3 win Saturday, but not for a lack of effort on the Bulldogs’ part. UMD scored the first goal of the game, then led 3-2 early in the second period before Minnesota notched three straight goals to continue its unbeaten start to the season.
Jon Waibel and Erik Wendell each had a goal and an assist, and Adam Hauser made 12 saves in 36:24 of play to earn the win in relief for Minnesota (10-0-1, 5-0-1 WCHA). As has been the theme all season, the Gophers did their damage on special teams with three power-play goals and a shorthander.
“It was nice to see some other guys score,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, alluding to the dominance of the Gophers’ top two lines.
“So far the top two lines have been carrying us a little bit,” agreed Matt Koalska, who notched the game-winner midway through the third period. “It gives everybody a confidence boost [when the scoring spreads around].”
UMD (4-7-1, 0-7-1 WCHA) got a goal and an assist from Jon Francisco, but remained winless in the WCHA despite a good effort from netminder Rob Anderson, who made several excellent saves among his 36 on the night. The Bulldogs’ power play also clicked early with two goals.
“The guys played hard. I’m proud of them,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin. “We played with urgency, with aggressiveness, and we had [the Gophers] back on their heels.”
Indeed, in the opening minutes Minnesota-Duluth showed considerably more jump than on Friday night, although the best scoring chances were still Minnesota’s.
UMD appeared to take its first lead of the weekend at 2:17, when Nate Anderson wristed one past freshman netminder Justin Johnson. The goal was waved off, however, when it was ruled that Nick Anderson had held Nick Angell to free the puck.
Minnesota failed to score on the resulting power play, but put together a series of dangerous chances over the next few minutes, all of them denied by sterling play from Rob Anderson. The junior netminder gloved Nick Anthony’s close-range backhander, then watched Jeff Taffe hit the left post with a slapshot before stoning Taffe from his back with a great glove save.
But Troy Riddle plowed into Anderson, giving the Bulldogs their first power play, and the visitors made Minnesota pay. Junior Jon Francisco won a faceoff back to senior Andy Reierson, and the Bulldog blueliner unleashed a slapshot from the point that beat Johnson cleanly to the glove side. The goal was Reierson’s fifth, giving Duluth the lead at 8:47.
A roughing call against Matt DeMarchi at 14:31 put UMD up a man once again, but for the third time in the series the man-advantage went awry for UMD as Waibel led a shorthanded two-on-one break. The winger made a crisp pass across the circles for rookie Jake Fleming, whose chip shot into the top left corner was his second goal of the season.
Another penalty against Nick Anderson, this one a hook at 18:15, gave Minnesota its third power play. Pohl was again the sparkplug, hitting Jordan Leopold with a cross-ice pass to give the All-American defenseman an open look at the net. Leopold’s shot dented twine to make the score 2-1 Minnesota after one period of play.
However, the Gophers gave the lead away 35 seconds into the second period. DeMarchi couldn’t quite get hold of a loose puck in the defensive zone, letting the Duluth captain Judd Medak break in alone. The senior left wing swept a backhander inches inside under the crossbar for his team-leading seventh goal.
Taffe put together another scoring chance two minutes into the frame, but Anderson was again equal to the task. Matching minors were handed out afterward thanks to a slapping contest between the goaltender Anderson and Taffe, and seconds later Koalska’s high-stick put UMD up a man.
The Bulldogs again converted. Beau Geisler’s slapshot wide of the net caromed wildly off the back boards to Francisco, and Johnson was too slow getting across the crease to stop Francisco’s hard-angle wrister from finding the back of the net, making it 3-2 Bulldogs.
At that point, having given up three goals on just seven shots, Johnson was pulled in favor of Friday’s starter, Hauser.
“From the first shot, [Johnson] seemed a little off,” said Lucia, who joked that he told his three goaltenders — all of whom have now been pulled during games — that “now everyone’s even.”
The change seemed to re-energize the Gophers, who swarmed the Duluth net in the succeeding minutes. Paul Martin, Leopold and Pohl all had quality scoring chances, with Pohl’s rebound attempt, in particular, just missing as the puck landed on top of the cage.
The Gophers’ pressure paid off at 11:05. Operating in the far corner, Matt Koalska whipped the puck at the crease, and it banged off a couple of bodies before coming to rest on the opposite side for Waibel, who chipped it home to even the score once again.
UMD’s Tyler Brosz then put the Gophers on the power play once more, cross-checking defenseman Judd Stevens in open space right in front of the official. Minnesota promptly retook the lead. Riddle’s slapshot rebounded to Wendell, and Anderson was unable to control Wendell’s backhander, leaving Koalska to poke home the loose puck for the lead at 13:38.
The squads exchanged relatively uneventful power plays early in the third period, though UMD again displayed the hustle it had shown during the opening minutes. Minnesota picked up an insurance goal on the power play at 11:06, as blueliner Keith Ballard’s slapper was stopped by Anderson, but Erik Wendell knocked home the rebound for a 5-3 Minnesota lead.
Less than a minute later, a hit from behind on Drew Otten got Taffe a major penalty and a game misconduct — though not a disqualification — giving the Bulldogs one last chance to draw even. But the Gophers’ penalty kill was flawless for the full five minutes, allowing UMD only one shot on goal and keeping the puck well away from the net for long stretches to end the threat.
“I thought the guys did an incredible job [on the penalty kill],” said Hauser.
Sandelin, who complimented the Gopher penalty kill as well, was frustrated with what he termed “some borderline calls and non-calls” by the officials.
“You can’t control what the refs call,” he said.
Attendance was announced at 9,917, an all-time record for recently-expanded 10,000-seat Mariucci Arena, although only about 6,000 fans were actually present.
No. 1 Minnesota next visits Michigan Friday, and Michigan State Sunday for the College Hockey Showcase. Minnesota-Duluth will travel to Northern Michigan for a nonconference series Friday and Saturday.