MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota used a quick start as the No. 10 Gophers downed No. 6 Denver, 6-2. The aggressive Gophers scored two quick goals early in the opening period marking the first time this season that they have scored first.
“You kind of had the feeling before the game we would have a good night. We were moving our feet causing chaos,” said sophomore defenseman Chris Harrington.
Harrington caused another type of chaos in spooking his teammates this Halloween night as he laid sprawled out on the ice behind his net in the third period.
“Everyone thought I was hurt, but I was just trying to find my teeth,” whisped Chris through his missing two front teeth.
Freshman Danny Irmen opened the scoring for the Gophers on a one-time blast from the top of the circle over the right shoulder of Denver senior goaltender Adam Berkhoel. Blueliner Peter Kennedy fed Irmen the puck for the only assist.
Nineteen seconds later sophomore Gino Guyer won the draw at center and controlled the puck into the Denver zone. He fed senior captain Grant Potulny. Potulny worked his way around the Denver defenseman and snuck the puck past Berkhoel. It was Minnesota’s second goal on four shots.
The Gophers added a third goal in the opening stanza at 14:24 catching Denver’s bench napping on a line change. Sophomore phenom Thomas Vanek took a rink wide pass from Tyler Hirsh and entered the zone on a two-on-one. Vanek dropped the puck to senior Matt Koalska and Koalska buried the puck in the vacated net for his first goal of the season.
The Gophers continued to play aggressively forcing the play. This aggressive play was not always clean as they spotted Denver to three man-advantages in the stanza. The Pioneers failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities with the extra attacker and the period ended 3-0 Minnesota.
This aggressive play was in response to a challenge from Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
“I met with the captains on Monday and was very direct,” he said. “I asked Grant if he thought my description was accurate of how they were playing. He said I was right on. Things we talked about all week actually happened”
The Gophers again found themselves down a man as freshman Ryan Potulny was called for high sticking at 4:25 of the 2nd.
Junior Jeff Drummond put the Pioneers on the board at 5:19 of the second scoring his fifth goal of the young season. Adrian Veideman took a shot from the left point hitting a Gopher defenseman in the shin pads. The rebound caught Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs out of position and Drummond buried the power-play goal from the right faceoff circle.
This was all Denver could muster in the second period. Meanwhile the Gophers scored two power-play goals 1:22 apart at 7:08 of the second chasing Berkhoel from the ice with Minnesota up 5-1.
Vanek and Grant Potulny tallied the goals on the man advantage. Vanek’s goal came on a backhand wraparound of Berhoel’s skate.
“I had some tough breaks, this is no excuse. I did not play well. I let the team down,” said a dejected Berkhoel.
Berkhoel was replaced by freshman Glenn Fisher who played outstanding in stopping 20 of 21 shots, including thwarting Grant Potulny’s hat trick bid from the goal crease with four minutes left in the game.
“I thought he did a real nice job. He came in when his team was down and faced tough shots right away,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky.
Gwozdecky would not comment on whether Glenn would get the start on Saturday. Lucia however said Briggs earned the right to start Saturday.
Gwozdecky agreed, “I was impressed with Briggs tonight. He frustrated alot of players on our team.”
The Pioneers showed some life as Minnesota’s defense was caught napping on the boards near the blueline. Denver senior captain Ryan Caldwell found the puck on the boards and skated uncontested up the middle of the zone deking Briggs on the stick side at 2:55 of the 3rd.
Minnesota’s Troy Riddle responded with a top-shelf shot as he split two defenseman skating in alone on Fisher. It was Minnesota’s only goal against Fisher to complete the scoring.
“I expect we will get better tomorrow night,” said a disappointed Gwozdecky.
“I am sure tomorrow is going to be a closer game,” said Lucia.
The same two teams face off tomorrow night at 7:05 as Minnesota goes for its first weekend sweep of the season.