(See also: Day One Notebook)
MINNEAPOLIS — Yale and Minnesota met Saturday in the Dodge Holiday Classic, each shorthanded thanks to the ongoing World Junior Championships. But one Gopher who wasn’t quite missing helped to leave no doubt about the outcome.
Minnesota rookie Thomas Vanek — already back from leading Austria to victory in the World Juniors’ preliminary Pool B round — scored two goals, and netminder Travis Weber stopped 31 shots en route to a 7-3 win at Mariucci Arena that was closer than the score suggested.
“It was unexpected. It was a weird game, because Yale’s a good hockey team,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It just seemed like we scored the goals and they didn’t.”
The victory over Yale (7-5-0, 7-3-0 ECAC) puts the Gophers in the title game, where they will attempt to win their fourth consecutive Classic championship. Their opposition will be Boston College, a 6-5 winner over Bowling Green in the first game of the afternoon, meaning that the championship will feature the last two NCAA titlists.
Minnesota (10-4-4, 6-2-2 WCHA) wasted no time taking the lead. A nifty give-and-go from Jerrid Reinholz — in his first game back from a shoulder injury — to Mike Erickson and back to Reinholz gave the sophomore half the net to work with, and his redirection beat Yale goalie Peter Cohen at 2:15.
The next 15 minutes of play could best be described as “deliberate.” The best chance in that timespan belonged to Vanek, who was left unmarked alongside the goalmouth but had his cross-crease pass intercepted at 15:00.
However, the Gophers doubled the lead at 18:41. From the top of the right circle, Dan Welch fed Tyler Hirsch at the left faceoff dot. Hirsch cut across the zone toward the goal line, beating a fallen Cohen to the glove side.
A high-stick on the Bulldogs’ Vin Hellemeyer led to the third Minnesota goal of the period. Operating behind the Yale net, Matt Koalska found Vanek, alone again in front after a couple of hits. Vanek had plenty of time to pick his spot, wristing the puck top-shelf with 17 seconds left in the frame and making a competitive first period look like a Minnesota blowout.
“It’s a set play, and I like it,” said Vanek of his tally. “I’ll take a little beating once in a while for that kind of a goal.”
Matters went from bad to worse for Yale at 5:53 of the second, when Gopher blueliner Paul Martin’s dump-in came off the left-wing boards and ricocheted crazily into the net past a helpless Cohen.
“It hit a seam in the glass,” said Martin of his unlikely goal. “Actually, [Minnesota defenseman] Matt DeMarchi did [the same thing] a couple of years back.”
“I felt the first period wasn’t really a 3-0 period,” said Yale coach Tim Taylor, who remained one win shy of 300 for his career. “They were able to get two quick goals at the end of the period, and that put us back on our heels. … And then that fourth goal, mentally I felt the bench really sag.”
Two more goals midway through the period meant that the word “rout” could fairly be applied. First, Martin’s shorthanded shot rebounded to Keith Ballard, who swept it home to make the score 5-0. Barely a minute later, Vanek — parked behind the net — deked Cohen to his left, then wrapped the puck home on the opposite side for his second goal of the game and team-leading 15th of the season.
Cohen, having made six saves on 12 shots, then departed the Bulldog net in favor of Josh Gartner. Gartner’s appearance — his first collegiate game — seemed to produce results for Yale, which broke the shutout on a nifty wrister from Christian Jensen, who circled the Gopher net before beating Weber up high.
Gartner, looking sharp in his Yale debut, stopped 10 Gopher shots before Minnesota’s Andy Sertich cleaned up a rebound in the slot to make it 7-1 in the waning minutes of the second. The freshman netminder finished with 19 saves, allowing only one goal in just over 30 minutes of play.
Yale made the score more respectable in the third, thanks to a point-blank putaway by C.J. Nibbe off Joe Callahan’s baseline pass, and then Joe Zappala’s cleanup job on a rebound in front with less than four minutes remaining. In fact, the Bulldogs controlled most of the period, including a five-on-three power play midway through.
“We had a talk after the second about competing hard,” said Taylor. “I was impressed with the way we came out in the third.”
Saturday’s consolation starts at 4 p.m. CT, with the championship following at 7.
Both coaches suggested motivation wouldn’t be a problem, with Lucia citing the special nature of this title game.
“BC’s an outstanding team,” he said, “and it’s not often that the last two national champions get a chance to play.”
Taylor’s Bulldogs, meanwhile, have a different issue.
“We’ve got to get some wins outside of the league,” he said. “We’re looking at getting to the NCAAs, and these are games we’ve got to win.”