OMAHA, Neb. — The University of Minnesota scored an average of 4.2 goals per game during their 2002-03 national championship run. Friday night, they got none.
Jimmy Howard led the University of Maine to a 4-0 shutout of the Golden Gophers, making 25 saves to open the Maverick Stampede, the first regular-season game at the brand-new Qwest Center Omaha. The Gophers hadn’t been shut out since March 16, 2001.
“That’s irrelevant to me,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said “I don’t even think about that or worry about that. We had a few chances and that’s a good goaltender. We hit a couple posts in the third period. My biggest thing is that we can correct the mistakes we made.”
Maine got on the board early when Todd Jackson scored a shorthander 5:48 into the game. The Black Bears continued rolling into the second period, scoring just 20 seconds in to take a 2-0 lead. Colin Shields made it a 3-0 game by waving a backhanded shot into the net 7:17 into the second.
The Black Bears continued to fight off the Gophers and used effective transitions from blocked shots to spring counterattacks all afternoon. One such transition spawned the final goal for Maine. A steal sprung Greg Moore and Jackson on a 2-on-1, Moore took the shot and Jackson cleaned up the rebound for his second goal of the night.
“I felt we got some good counters on them,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “That really came from the good defense. We’re going to keep emphasizing that with our team. We have a good offense, but it comes from good defense.”
Minnesota actually carried the play in the second period and kept sustained pressure on Maine late in the frame, but Maine’s transition was just too effective.
That, and Minnesota had no answer for Howard.
“I thought he was great,” Whitehead said. “Every time he was tested he was sharp. I thought he was really focused this week in practice and it kind of culminated in this game tonight.”
Lucia is now 1-8-2 record against Maine during his tenure as head coach with three different teams. His only win over the Black Bears came in the 2002 national championship.
Were the two-time champs a little hung over, so to speak, from the back-to-back titles?
“They’re a little disappointed tonight, but there’s no yelling,” Lucia said. “It sends you back to reality. We’ve had some good practices, but I think they were a little hungrier tonight than we were.”
Minnesota will play host Nebraska-Omaha in the consolation game Saturday. Maine will play Wisconsin, a 4-3 overtime winner over UNO, in the championship.