MINNEAPOLIS — The late charge that pushed Minnesota to a win Friday? It wasn’t needed Saturday.
The Golden Gophers scored one goal in each period while dominating territorially and putting 48 shots on goal, and netminder Kellen Briggs stopped all 18 Michigan Tech shots for a 3-0 win at Mariucci Arena. Freshmen Danny Irmen and Jake Taylor scored the first two Gopher goals, and defensive standout Keith Ballard tacked on the third to secure the win.
“Danny seems to play with more energy when he’s playing center,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia of Irmen, who had been placed at wing earlier in the season. “It really gives him more freedom on the ice.”
Minnesota (4-7-1, 3-6-1 WCHA) surged in the first period, although the scoreboard didn’t reflect the extent of the Gophers’ dominance thanks to Michigan Tech (2-7-3, 0-6-2 WCHA) goaltender Cam Ellsworth, who made 27 saves in the frame to hold the Gophers to a 1-0 lead at intermission.
“I didn’t have much time to think,” said Ellsworth, in what may have been an understatement.
Even the lone goal came on a fortunate bounce for the Gophers. Sophomore sensation Thomas Vanek, operating behind the Husky net, threw a pass out front for Tyler Hirsch, but the puck hopped Hirsch’s stick straight to a waiting Irmen in the high slot. The rookie from Fargo, N.D., beat Ellsworth for his third goal of the season at 4:50.
Vanek, still in playmaking mode, nearly doubled the Gopher lead at the 11-minute mark with a backhand pass for Jake Fleming in front, but Ellsworth fell on Fleming’s redirection attempt. Likewise, Irmen dove across the Tech crease in chase of a Taylor shot that dribbled behind the MTU ‘tender, but Ellsworth managed to glove the puck without further damage.
“You’re not going to get 28 shots every period, and unfortunately we weren’t up three or four-nothing like we should have been,” said Lucia.
A strangely sedate middle period followed — until Garrett Smaagaard won a battle for the puck behind Ellsworth and hit a streaking Taylor high between the circles. Taylor’s one-timer was true, giving him his first collegiate goal and his team a 2-0 lead at 13:13.
“Obviously, Garrett made a great pass, and the only thing that went through my mind was to shoot as hard as I could,” said Taylor, a stay-at-home defenseman. “I think I scored maybe eight goals my whole career in juniors.”
Briggs was called upon to preserve the two-goal advantage moments later, as sniper Taggart Desmet tested him on the power play. Desmet fired hard on net from the left circle, but Briggs slid across the crease to end the threat.
Minnesota’s goal aside, the period was relatively even, with shots favoring the Gophers only 8-7.
“We did a good job righting the ship in the second period,” said MTU head coach Jamie Russell. “I don’t think Minnesota got their first shot on goal until seven or eight minutes in.”
Gopher captain Grant Potulny had a chance for a third Gopher goal in the waning moments of the second period, but fired into Ellsworth’s chest on a breakaway as the horn sounded. That left open MTU’s hopes for a comeback, especially once Minnesota’s Matt Koalska went off for slashing a minute into the third.
It wasn’t to be. On the Tech power play, Gopher center Gino Guyer broke away shorthanded and was hauled down by Brett Engelhardt, reducing play to four-on-four. Ballard struck, putting away a rebound from the doorstep to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead at 2:32.
Michigan Tech, which played well to stay close most of the weekend, never threatened down the stretch, and Minnesota reached a modest goal: its first two-game winning streak of a difficult season.
“Both nights were a little uneven,” said Lucia, “but I’m not going to complain about two wins. … We had the puck all weekend.”
Tech, meanwhile, is winless in seven straight, and a promising start to the year is proving hard to maintain. Still, Russell saw some positives.
“[The players are a] very resilient group,” Russell said. “The guys play hard for 60 minutes. They compete, and they don’t quit.”
Next for Minnesota is a road trip to face Michigan State and Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase next Friday and Saturday. Michigan Tech has Thanksgiving weekend off before hosting Minnesota-Duluth.