MINNEAPOLIS — One night after a disappointing performance in the teams’ series opener, Minnesota rallied from two goals down to draw with Colorado College, 2-2, Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
Freshman phenom Thomas Vanek scored the tying goal late in the third period on the power play, and Travis Weber made 30 saves to help the Gophers avoid being swept at home for the first time in over two years.
On the power play at 13:55 of the third period, Vanek one-timed Matt Koalska’s centering pass on net, then cleaned up the rebound for his ninth goal of the season to deliver the tie for Minnesota.
“Matty was behind the net and made a great pass to me,” said Vanek.
“He’s a big-time player,” said CC coach Scott Owens of the Austrian rookie. “When he wants to play, he’s the best player in the league.”
At the other end of the ice, winger Peter Sejna — like Vanek a trans-Atlantic import — and netminder Curtis McElhinney starred once again for CC. Sejna scored both Tiger goals and McElhinney made 35 stops in another high-quality performance.
After a subpar effort Friday night, Minnesota (5-3-3, 2-2-2 WCHA) overcame early sluggishness to control play for most of the last 30 minutes. That, combined with Weber’s effort, meant that the contest remained close throughout.
“You can’t win in this league unless your goalie gets you nine out of 10 [saves],” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, who also complimented Sejna’s performance.
CC, meanwhile, saw its early lead evaporate and was outplayed in the second period, but still held on to take three of four points on the road.
“We certainly had our chances to win, even though Curtis [McElhinney] got us the point,” said Owens.
The officials established early on that borderline penalties would not be assessed, drawing the ire of the crowd when the no-calls seemed to benefit Colorado College. And in a near-repeat of Friday night’s strong start, the Tigers (9-1-2, 6-0-2 WCHA) racked up a 7-2 lead in shots on goal through the first eight minutes.
That dominance paid off on a great individual effort by Sejna. The Slovakian-born junior got the puck from Marty Sertich at the top of the left circle and somehow slipped by two Gopher defenders before whizzing a wrister past Weber’s glove side at 8:07.
A good bounce — or a bad one, depending on your perspective — helped put Colorado College up 2-0 at 12:14.
From deep in the defensive zone, Gopher blueliner Matt DeMarchi’s attempted clearing pass banged off Sejna to Noah Clarke, who drove the net and neatly fed Sejna cross-crease for an easy tuck-in goal, the junior winger’s 11th of the year.
Minnesota killed what looked like a frustration penalty by Vanek — for mashing Mark Stuart into the boards — then got a couple of quality shots before DeMarchi poke-checked the puck away from Tyler Liebel on a breakaway to keep the lead at two.
McElhinney did his part as well, stoning Mike Erickson on a point-blank redirection at the nine-minute mark. But the sophomore netminder couldn’t stop the next Gopher chance, a picture-perfect no-look centering pass from Vanek that Gino Guyer one-timed home at 9:56 to make it 2-1 CC.
The officials’ policy of letting them play was tested at 13:09 when DeMarchi picked up his second penalty of the evening, a touchy holding call. But Minnesota defenseman Paul Martin nearly made the power play work in reverse, banging a wrister off the post on a two-on-two rush.
In the aftermath of that play, a hold by Scott Polaski got Minnesota another man-advantage, but McElhinney again stopped the charge with an outstanding glove save on Chris Harrington, who had half the net to work with after a big rebound.
Shots after two periods were even at 18 as Minnesota reversed CC’s momentum of the opening frame.
Both teams had good chances early in the third, with Vanek backhanding a loose puck over the net and Liebel putting a one-timer right at Weber after a funny carom off a couple of sticks.
Next, Nick Anthony’s backhanded wraparound hit a well-positioned McElhinney in the chest, and the save parade continued at 10:26, when Weber snatched a goal away from Colin Stuart, whose point-blank wrister had been destined for the back of the net.
A frantic scramble by the Gophers moments later produced at least three shots from short range, but no goal as a fallen McElhinney managed to get a glove on the puck amidst a pile of bodies.
Finally, the Minnesota pressure paid off. CC’s Jason Josza flattened Dan Welch going to the net, and Vanek made the Tigers pay on the resulting power play.
In the end, neither team was unhappy with the result.
“Very quietly, we’ve played very well,” said Owens, whose team is now 34-9-5 since opening the 2001-02 WCHA season 0-5. “This is going to be an eye-opener.”
“With our lineup, we knew we couldn’t get into a shootout,” said Lucia. “I thought we were pretty disciplined, and our penalty-kill played well.”
Along with the Tigers’ unbeaten string, several individual streaks were on the line in the contest. Sejna (13 games), Clarke (10) and Minnesota’s Troy Riddle (12) extended point-scoring streaks, although Tiger rookie Brett Sterling failed to score a goal for the first time in his eight WCHA games.
Up next, Colorado College takes a week off before facing neighboring Air Force on the road and Mercyhurst at home; Minnesota stays in the WCHA to host Michigan Tech for a pair.