HOUGHTON, Mich. — Minnesota may not have the lethal power play it had last season, but if you give any team enough chances, it will cash in sooner or later.
Thanks largely to a rash of penalties by Michigan Tech, the defending NCAA-champion Gophers rallied from a two-goal deficit twice to take a 5-4 victory at MacInnes Arena on Friday night.
“We made some bad decisions,” said Huskies’ coach Mike Sertich. “They know how to win. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet. This was a good opportunity for us to that, and we didn’t get it done.”
The Huskies gave the Gophers eight opportunities with the man advantage, including a five-minute power play in the second period. Freshmen Thomas Vanek and Gino Guyer each scored twice for Minnesota (2-1-1, 1-0-0 WCHA), while defenseman Keith Ballard had four assists. Vanek’s wraparound goal with 5:26 left snapped a 4-4 tie.
“We battled, and that’s what I was happy to see,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “Any time you can get two points on the road, you’ve got to be happy.”
Bryan Perez scored twice for the Huskies, while Brett Engelhardt scored his fifth of the season and added an assist for Tech (1-2-1, 0-1-0).
Perez spotted the Huskies a 2-0 first-period lead with a pair of goals that came less than three minutes apart late in the period. At the 15:43 mark, Perez beat Gophers’ goaltender Travis Weber with a slapper from the right point for a power-play goal. Then, with 1:26 left in the period, Perez picked up a puck that bounced out of the corner, turned around at the right faceoff dot and fired a shot that deflected off Weber’s stick and went high into the net.
“His fitness level has really improved, and that allows him to do some things,” said Sertich of Perez, who now has eight points on the season.
The Gophers got one back at 4:16 of the middle period the Austrian import Vanek, the first European to ever play for Minnesota, batted the puck out of the air and past Tech goaltender Cam Ellsworth.
Although Minnesota dominated most of the period, outshooting the Huskies by a 16-1 margin, Engelhardt made the only shot count, chasing Weber from the game when he took B.J. Radovich’s drop pass and fired it through the goalie’s five hole.
About a minute later, however, the tide turned in a big way. Tech senior Chris Durno was given a five-minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct. Although Ellsworth held down the fort as well as he could, Matt Koalska shelved a rebound midway through the power play, pulling the Gophers to within one goal.
Despite all the penalties, the Huskies had a 3-2 lead after two periods.
“You play the defending national champions shorthanded for that long, and you’re still ahead, that’s playing Russian Roulette,” said Sertich.
Minnesota tied the game at 1:14 of the third period when Guyer finished a two-on-one with Dan Welch by beating a helpless, sprawled-out Ellsworth. Guyer then gave the Gophers their first lead of the game when he walked into the low slot and scored a power-play goal at 6:41. It was the fourth goal of the season for Guyer, the prize recruit who was the Mr. Hockey of the Minnesota prep ranks last season.
Tech tied the game at 9:27 when 5-foot-8 freshman waterbug Chris Conner slipped through the Gophers’ defense at the blue line, broke in alone and slid a shot through Justin Johnson’s pads.
But Vanek’s second goal of the night put Minnesota in the lead for good.
“He’s got great stick skills, and guys that have great stick skills can make plays if they have any bit of room,” said Lucia. “Guys that can make plays with the puck are difficult to find at any level.”
“They’re good hockey players,” said Sertich of freshmen phenoms Guyer and Vanek. “Everybody in the country knew that. It’s a credit to their recruiting process, they’re big-time players.”
The Huskies struggled to get control of the puck in the waning moments of the game, meaning that Ellsworth couldn’t be pulled until it was too late. Minnesota outshot the Huskies, 36-23. The Gophers were 2-for-8 on the power play, while Tech went 2-for-4.
Saturday’s rematch is slated to begin at 7:35 p.m.