MINNEAPOLIS — In a game that sometimes looked more like target practice than hockey, third-ranked Minnesota put forth a dominating effort to top North Dakota 7-2 Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
The first line of John Pohl, Troy Riddle and Nick Anthony scored the first three goals and totaled 10 points; Pohl led the way with two goals and two assists as the Gophers took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three WCHA first-round series.
Although the Gophers won four of the five regular-season matchups, none of those resembled Friday’s, which Minnesota put away before the halfway point. The hosts ran away with the decision despite a non-factor effort on the power play, which was 1-for-10 on the evening.
“It was fun to watch,” said netminder Adam Hauser. “We had guys cutting into holes, busting to the net for the first 35, 40 minutes of the game.”
“Minnesota was more on than we were off,” said North Dakota coach Dean Blais. “They would have beaten anybody in the country tonight.”
Despite the big win, the Gophers were careful not to give the Sioux any bulletin-board material, shrugging off any thought of a walkover in Saturday’s rematch.
“Not with North Dakota. We’re not going to get overconfident,” said Pohl. “They’re not going to come out and lay down, that’s for sure.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t get to start with a five-goal lead tomorrow,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “They [the players] understand it’s not best-of-one; it’s best-of-three. … It’s going to take the same effort tomorrow night.”
Minnesota (27-7-4) opened the scoring at 2:17. UND netminder Josh Siembida slid out to save Anthony’s short wrister, but Riddle gathered the loose puck in traffic and fed it back to Pohl. With Siembida still down, Pohl had no trouble finding the open half of the net.
Anthony and Riddle doubled the Gopher lead less than three minutes later with a sharp two-on-one. Breaking up the middle, Anthony flipped the puck to Riddle, whose tip beat Siembida high on the glove side as the freshman netminder had no chance on the play.
The puck spent a lot more time in the North Dakota end for the rest of the period, but North Dakota (16-18-2) escaped without further damage. That was true despite another two-on-one, this one culminating in a pass from Riddle that a diving Pohl just missed redirecting into the net.
Then, with seconds left, Matt DeMarchi’s shot from the blue line tipped off a UND stick and over Siembida’s glove for an apparent goal, but the play was blown dead as Barry Tallackson had skidded offside a second before.
Minnesota dominated the second period even more completely, netting four goals in the first six-plus minutes to squelch any chance of a Sioux rally. The Gophers fired from all over the ice, repeatedly beating Sioux defenders with speed or creating openings with tape-to-tape passing.
The resurgent Anthony tallied his ninth goal of the year, extending the lead to 3-0 just :18 in. Riddle sped up the right side and fired a shot-pass that Anthony tipped between Siembida’s leg and the post.
Three minutes later, North Dakota’s defense broke down again, and the rout was on. Matt Koalska circled behind the net with the puck, then cut across the slot, attracting the attention of two defenders. That allowed Tallackson to slip in front unmarked, and the freshman winger slid the puck around a fallen Siembida at 2:59.
Pohl quickly made it 5-0 with his second goal of the game — this one on the power play — by blasting home the rebound of Jordan Leopold’s slapshot on a hard angle from the left side. The goal was Pohl’s 25th of the season.
The carnage continued at 6:08 with Keith Ballard’s seventh goal of the year. The rookie blueliner cleaned up a loose puck in front, going five-hole after Taffe and Dan Welch got touches in the slot.
Ryan Bayda led an odd-man rush for the Sioux’s best scoring chance to that point, hitting Nick Fuher for a tip in front of Adam Hauser, but the senior closed the pads to keep UND off the scoreboard. The Sioux got one anyway a minute later as Tim Skarperud took the puck away from Leopold in the zone, then beat Hauser up high for his 21st goal of the year at 11:28.
“You get the feeling in the locker room whether they’re ready to play, and I didn’t really get that feeling,” said Blais of the Sioux’s early-game performance.
Andy Kollar replaced Siembida to start the third period, and immediately was pressed into action with a nice glove save on a Taffe power-play slapshot, then another on a point shot off the stick of Nick Angell.
Taffe added the seventh Gopher goal off a three-on-two, backhanding the puck home from the slot for his team-leading 30th goal of the year; and Rory McMahon’s shorthanded breakaway for North Dakota provided the final score.
A minor round of fisticuffs developed after the closing horn, with five players picking up double minors for roughing at the 20:00 mark of the third. No disqualifications were issued.
For the game, Siembida stopped 24 shots while allowing six Gopher goals, while Kollar saved 15 and let in one. Hauser made 21 saves for Minnesota, which doubled up North Dakota, 46-23, in shots on goal.
Minnesota and North Dakota meet again Saturday night for game two. A Minnesota victory would send the Gophers to the WCHA Final Five for a Friday semifinal, while a UND win would force game three. Of note: UND has lost each of its past three opening games in the WCHA playoffs, and come back to win all three series.
“So probably we’ll win Saturday, and then Sunday,” grinned Blais.