MINNEAPOLIS — A season of streaks — all positive — continued Friday for Colorado College, which opened up a five-goal lead and then fought off a Minnesota rally for a 7-3 win, the Tigers’ seventh straight.
Peter Sejna scored the eventual game winning goal and added two assists, extending his scoring streak to 12 games. CC took control of the game with power-play goals in the last minute of the first and the first minute of the second, part of a five-goal barrage in less than 10 minutes of play.
“Obviously, if you can score a goal in the last minute or the first minute of a period, that’s huge for you,” said head coach Scott Owens.
Behind the other bench, there was a hint of frustration.
“I was disappointed that we never gave ourselves a chance to win,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “Could we have won if we’d played better? I don’t know, but the better team definitely won tonight.”
Sophomore netminder Curtis McElhinney stopped 32 Minnesota shots to continue his impressive start.
“I thought he was outstanding, especially early,” said Owens. “He didn’t look like a goalie who’s only played two road games [in his career].”
Minnesota (5-3-2, 2-2-1 WCHA), meanwhile, went flat as the Tigers built the lead. Lucia refused to blame the injuries which have turned the Gophers’ forward lines into a patchwork.
“That’s not why,” Lucia said. “I don’t care who we have out there, we’re not going to win if we don’t play harder.”
Colorado College (9-1-1, 6-0-1 WCHA) held the edge early. Minnesota could not muster its first shot on goal until after the nine-minute mark — and then the Tigers put the offense into high gear.
CC got on the board with a frozen-moment play at 17:20. Defenseman Andrew Canzanello backhanded the puck off the side of the net, then followed the play in back before centering a pass to Marty Sertich. Johnson got a piece of his shot, leaving the puck squarely on the goal line.
As Sertich mistakenly celebrated his almost-goal, Noah Clarke skated around a mystified Johnson and tapped the puck home for his fourth of the year. The point extended Clarke’s own scoring streak to nine games.
A crosscheck on Gopher junior Dan Welch put CC up a man in the final minutes of the period. The Gophers compounded their error when blueliner Chris Harrington, following a two-on-two shorthanded rush, plowed into McElhinney.
Those penalties proved critical as Colorado College converted both power plays to go up 3-0.
“You’ve got a [CC] power play that’s 30 percent on the season, and you give them a minute of five-on-three,” Lucia lamented.
With just 8.7 seconds left in the frame, and still skating five-on-three, Tiger captain Tom Preissing — last week’s WCHA Defensive Player of the Week — took the puck from Sejna and surprised Johnson with an off-balance wrister. Preissing’s shot slipped inside the left post to make it 2-0 Tigers after one.
Tiger freshman Brett Sterling, the league’s reigning Rookie of the Week, added to the lead in the waning seconds of the five-on-four, redirecting Sejna’s centering pass through the five-hole at :55 of the second period. The rookie winger’s goal was his ninth, including one in each of his WCHA games.
“That’s been him all around,” said Owens. “He’s got seven goals in seven [league] games, and he could have had a couple more. He’s dangerous.”
Sejna added the fourth goal himself at 6:48, redirecting a point shot off the stick of Richard Petiot. And less than a minute later the score became 5-0. Colin Stuart and Aaron Slattengren executed a two-man play which ended in Slattengren flipping his own rebound over the glove of Johnson.
The Gophers got one back at 8:26 when Judd Stevens tapped home Dan Welch’s cross-ice pass from the back door, then missed another chance as Troy Riddle couldn’t control a bouncing puck in front while on the power play. Minnesota redeemed itself just after the man-advantage expired, though. Rookie Andy Sertich bagged his first goal at 13:13 after a scramble around the crease.
The Gophers continued to generate chances for the remaining minutes of the period, but none got by McElhinney. Meanwhile, Colorado College used crisp puck movement to blunt the Minnesota charge, leaving the Tiger lead precariously intact.
“They just got it going and got it going,” said Owens. “I was [relieved] when the period ended.”
A turnover at center ice brought Minnesota one closer early in the third. Riddle fed Thomas Vanek, who got ahead of two Tiger defenders to hoist a wrister for his eighth goal of the year about seven minutes in.
Johnson kept it that way for a while, making three big stops on one sequence for CC. A hold on Clarke then got Minnesota the chance to narrow the lead to one, but the Tiger penalty-killers held fast.
Colorado College then stymied the Gophers’ offense in the closing minutes. Cullen added an empty-netter with 34 seconds left, and Scott Polaski tacked on one more in the waning seconds.
Regardless, Owens felt the game was within Minnesota’s reach.
“I was telling my assistants that I never thought a five-goal lead could be so tough to hold on to,” he said. “I was worried until that last penalty-kill in the last five minutes.”
Minnesota and Colorado College complete the weekend series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.