MANKATO, Minn. — The Minnesota Gophers got timely power-play goals and held off Minnesota State to win 7-4 Saturday night.
Minnesota (2-1-1 WCHA, 5-2-2 overall) was led offensively by Paul Martin and Troy Riddle. Martin scored two goals and added three assists, while Riddle tallied two goals and two assists. Sophomore goaltender Justin Johnson remained undefeated for UM as he stopped 28 of 32 shots in front of a crowd of 5,084.
After a 3-2 loss to MSU (1-2-1 WCHA, 2-4-2 overall) the night before, Gopher coach Don Lucia said the team talked before the game Saturday to prepare for the season finale.
“We had a little student meeting today,” Lucia said. “We were much more physical tonight. We finished a lot more checks, and I think that helps get guys into the game too.”
Both coaches agreed that the results of the weekend didn’t reflect the effort the teams gave in each game. Lucia and MSU coach Troy Jutting felt that, while the Mavericks won Friday night, Minnesota should have. Likewise, despite the Gophers winning Saturday night, both coaches thought MSU was the better team.
“I told [Jutting] after the game, ‘It’s funny how hockey works,’” Lucia said. “I thought we should have won the game last night, and I’m sure they feel that if their goaltender played a little better, they would have had a chance to win the game tonight.”
“I thought we played a much better game tonight than we did last night,” Jutting added. “I was much more pleased with our effort tonight than I was last night. The bounces didn’t go our way tonight. It was just one of those games where it wasn’t meant to be.”
The game started with a fast tempo as both teams tested the goalies early. Only moments into the game, Minnesota’s Matt DeMarchi took a shot from the right point that MSU goaltender Jason Jensen knocked away.
MSU came right back as Jeff Marler took a shot from the top of the right circle, but Johnson was up to the task as well.
The Gophers cashed in on one of their early chances and took a 1-0 lead. Just 2:31 in, freshman defenseman P.J. Atherton finished a rush by one-timing a pass from senior Nick Anthony past Jensen for his first collegiate goal.
Minnesota had ample opportunity to increase the lead late in the period. With 4:24 left in the first, MSU defenseman Jon Dubel crosschecked Riddle from behind into the boards. He was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
The Gophers had 48 seconds of a five-on-three power play in addition to their five-minute power play, but were unable to cash in due to an aggressive MSU penalty kill led by Brad Thompson and Adam Gerlach.
The Mavericks, building off their penalty-killing success, tied the game 4:43 into the second as freshman Brock Becker scored the first goal of his college career. Sophomore Grant Stevenson started the play as he pushed the puck on net while being tripped by a Gopher defenseman. Becker found the rebound and shot it between Johnson’s legs. The puck hit the UM goaltender’s leg and bounced into the net.
But the Gophers responded with a fluky goal just 4:10 later. Junior Joey Martin got the puck on the left side of the MSU crease and fanned on the shot. The slow-moving puck fooled Jensen and slipped inside the right post to give UM a 2-1 lead.
Minnesota poured on the offense with two more goals. The first came at 12:09 of the period as defenseman Paul Martin fired a slow shot between Jensen’s legs to make the score 3-1.
Unlike the night before, when Jensen stopped 35 of 37 shots in MSU’s win, the Maverick goaltender looked off during Minnesota’s first three goals.
“I think their guy might have been a little bit tired tonight,” Lucia said. “I wish he would have given us a few of those last night.”
Later in the second, on the power play, Riddle made a fantastic play to build Minnesota’s lead to three. Freshman Thomas Vanek passed from the left wing over to Riddle, who deflected the pass into the net. The goal, at 13:08, was Riddle’s team-leading 11th of the year.
MSU was able to bring the deficit back to two goals with a four-on-three power-play goal. Junior Shane Joseph passed from the left faceoff circle across the ice to B.J. Abel. Abel fired from the top of the right circle and beat Johnson high at 16:31 of the second.
The Mavericks came within one as they scored early in the third. Defenseman Aaron Forsythe took a shot from the point that Becker redirected past Johnson for his second goal of the night. The goal came at 1:02 of the period.
But the Gophers once again built their lead to three with a pair of power-play goals 16 seconds apart.
Skating five-on-three, Paul Martin passed to Riddle at the left of the crease. Riddle passed right back to Martin, who shot the puck high glove-side on Jensen for his second tally of the evening at 4:19 of the third.
On the same power play, Vanek put a backhander in at 4:45 for his seventh goal of the season to give UM a 6-3 lead.
“That was a big sequence,” Lucia said. “Two quick power-play goals, boom-boom, ended the game in the third period. That was key.”
The Gophers finished three for six on the power play, adding to their two power-play goals from the previous night. MSU finished two for six.
MSU got a late power-play goal from Cole Bassett with 4:21 left, but Riddle answered by scoring into an empty net with 16 seconds left in the game.
Riddle’s performance gave him a team-leading 19 points in nine games. More impressively, Riddle was questionable for the game. In Friday night’s contest, he missed the third period with a shoulder injury. But after icing his shoulder and taking some treatment, the team evaluated him before the game and decided he was good to go.
“It was really sore last night,” Riddle said. “She was feeling all right, so I got the green light. It was definitely sore throughout the game, but it wasn’t too bad.”
“Riddle was a real sparkplug tonight; he played so hard and that was important,” Lucia said. “Troy’s been our best forward, without question, this whole year. He plays the game with passion and energy, and you know you’re going to get a great effort from him every night.”
Lucia also had kind words to say of Paul Martin’s five-point performance.
“As far as I’m concerned, I think he’s the best defenseman in our league. You can’t coach what he has. He’s got the great hockey sense.”
Martin said the team needed to rebound after a tough loss the night before.
“We had to pick the guys up,” Martin said. “We had some injuries, and last night was a tough loss for us. I was a little surprised the guys were upbeat. They wanted to play more than they did last night, probably because we lost. We wanted to come out and set the tone early, and I think everyone was onboard.”
“(The win was) obviously very important,” Riddle said. “It was 1-1-1 in the league here, and we needed a W because when it comes down to the end of the year, these points are crucial.”
Next week, the Gophers head home for a series against Colorado College. The Mavericks will stay home as they host the first part of a home-and-home series against St. Cloud State Friday.