ANN ARBOR, Mich. — How do you improve upon an 11-0-1 record, a No. 1 ranking and the play of two bona fide stars in John Pohl and Jordan Leopold?
Easy: you find a third star.
Minnesota (11-0-1, 5-0-1 WCHA), led by junior Jeff Taffe’s hat trick, pummeled Michigan (5-5-2, 4-3-2 CCHA) at Yost Arena, 5-2, in a Friday evening game of the annual College Hockey Showcase.
The win earned the Golden Gophers the Renfrew-Mariucci trophy, named in honor of the Michigan-Minnesota coaching greats and given to the winner of the yearly matchup.
Minnesota scored three times in the first seven minutes of the first period to send the Wolverines into an unrecoverable tailspin.
“Our guys were jacked to start the game,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “When you are excited to play when the game starts, you are on your toes a little bit, and our guys had a good start.”
Taffe netted goals 11, 12 and 13 of the season by the middle of the second period, serving further notice to the Golden Gophers’ multidimensional offensive attack.
“Your stars have to shine in games like this and Jeff was the man tonight,” Lucia said.
Minnesota’s Keith Ballard started the scoring barrage at the 2:09 mark, picking up a loose puck in the Michigan zone, skating to the top of the slot and wristing a shot past screened Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn for his fourth goal of the season and the 1-0 lead.
Minnesota jumped to a 2-0 lead just under three minutes later. Grant Potulny found the puck in a faceoff scrum and slid it to Taffe, all alone on Blackburn’s stick side. The junior held the puck until Blackburn bit before sliding it by glove side for the goal.
Minnesota’s offensive fervor culminated at the 6:51 mark with Michigan’s Eric Werner off for hooking. Taffe struck again, this time one-timing a feed from Pohl at the bottom of the far-side faceoff circle and beating the butterflied Blackburn on his glove side for the 3-0 lead.
Michigan finally got on the board nearly ten minutes into the second period when senior defenseman Jay Vancik beat Adam Hauser with a blast from the left point to breathe some life into the shell-shocked Wolverines.
But Minnesota responded five minutes later when Taffe took a pass from Matt DeMarchi inside the blue line and skated in untouched on the beleaguered Blackburn. The netminder stacked his pads, but Taffe held the puck on his forehand and slid it past Blackburn for the 4-1 advantage, sending a couple of baseball caps cascading to the ice in an already-hostile arena.
“Once you get going in the first period, you know you’ll score later on in the night,” a good-humored Taffe said. “We knew they would come out firing in the first period and we just wanted to hold them off — but we got a few bounces in the early going and just took it from there.”
For good measure, DeMarchi scored his first of the season, beating Blackburn on a point drive that appeared to deflect off of traffic in front of the net at the 3:09 mark of the third period. Less than a minute later, Blackburn was pulled in favor of senior Kevin O’Malley.
Michigan’s Mike Komisarek scored his third goal at the 8:14 mark off a feed from John Shouneyia in front of Hauser to reduce the deficit to 5-2.
Michigan pinched in in the third period, getting a number of in-close opportunities on Hauser, including a Milan Gajic breakaway and a Craig Murray miss on a wide-open net, but to no avail.
“When we’ve got a three-goal lead like that, we need to do better on our assignments,” Lucia said.