MINNEAPOLIS — Stuck on two? Not this time.
After a narrow win Friday, Minnesota coach Don Lucia worried about his team’s inability to convert chances, especially in the early going. In their last nine games, the Gophers have scored an average of just 2.6 goals, never getting more than two goals in the first 40 minutes of any of those contests.
That wasn’t a problem Saturday night. Minnesota scored twice in each of the first two periods, salting away a 5-2 win over Alaska-Anchorage thanks to a relentless mid-game assault that saw the Gophers put 22 shots on goal in the second period.
“That second period was a steppingstone for us,” said Minnesota’s Barry Tallackson, who netted the second Gopher goal and added a helper on the game-winner. “We made plays happen … and we got goals.”
“The second period, I thought we had some great plays in the offensive zone,” said Lucia.
Thomas Vanek made his return to the lineup for Minnesota, but Gino Guyer starred again on offense, picking up a goal and an assist. Linemate Danny Irmen had the eventual game-winning goal, and an assist to boot.
Minnesota (20-11-3, 13-10-1 WCHA) has now won 20 games for the fifth straight season — all five of Lucia’s years behind the bench — and remained in fifth in the league standings. Alaska-Anchorage (10-17-3, 7-16-3) has lost six straight, and is in eighth place.
In the UAA nets, Kevin Reiter stopped 41 shots, echoing Chris King’s performance of a day earlier.
“Again, if not for outstanding goaltending by us, the score could have been a lot worse,” said Anchorage head coach John Hill.
Curtis Glencross, who missed Friday’s contest thanks to a game disqualification, made his mark early. On the power play, Glencross got behind the defense and took a pass from Chris Fournier, beating Minnesota netminder Kellen Briggs with a backhander in front.
Glencross’ 15th goal came at 3:25 of the first period, staking UAA to its first lead of the series on its first shot on net of the game.
Minnesota answered three minutes later. Picking up a turnover, Jake Fleming led Garrett Smaagaard for a clean breakaway. The junior winger went to his backhand to beat Reiter, his third goal of the year at 6:35.
Glencross, a physical player and hard hitter, was whistled for hooking Keith Ballard at 9:53 — a call obvious enough that Glencross was waiting at the penalty box before the door could even be opened.
With its second power-play unit on the ice, Minnesota worked the puck around the zone before Guyer fired the puck toward the net. Tallackson was unmarked on the far side for a textbook putaway at 10:50, making it 2-1.
In the second period, Minnesota capitalized just after another power play. Irmen corralled the puck above the circles, drifted toward the net and unleashed a wrister from the high slot that landed inside the left post to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead.
Briggs was called upon to preserve that advantage minutes later with his best save of the game. With the Gophers applying pressure in the Seawolf zone, Brent McMann got behind the defense for a breakaway. But Briggs stopped his point-blank shot.
Guyer continued his onslaught at 14:11 of the second period. His initial shot from the right circle was saved, but Guyer got his own rebound and skated below the goal line before switching to his forehand for a stuff attempt to Reiter’s left.
The puck, Reiter and Minnesota captain Grant Potulny all went barreling into the net in a heap, but the puck crossed the goal line a moment before the net came off its moorings for Guyer’s 10th goal of the season and a 4-1 Minnesota lead.
The Gophers dominated the rest of the second period, frustrating UAA’s attempts to rally. That frustration boiled over late in the period. After Ales Parez took a high-sticking minor, he batted the puck over the boards, earning a 10-minute misconduct. The sophomore continued to vent his irritation on the glass of the penalty box, and referee Marco Hunt finally thumbed an incredulous Parez off the ice with a game misconduct.
“We really just got undisciplined in the second period, and we unraveled,” said Hill.
The third period was somewhat lackluster, with the Gophers willing to sit on the lead. Charlie Kronschnabel tacked on a second UAA goal at 14:41, a shot from the left faceoff dot that zipped past Briggs’ glove.
But UAA got no closer, and after pulling Reiter with two minutes left in regulation, Gopher Chris Harrington chased down a loose puck and scored into the empty net at 18:17 for the 5-2 final.
For the Seawolves, the result was all too familiar.
“It gets frustrating watching the same mistakes week after week, especially when they end up in your net,” said Hill of his young team’s learning process.
Lucia, meanwhile, acknowledged his squad’s high spirits, bouncing back for two difficult losses at Minnesota-Duluth.
“[The players] should be excited,” he said. “It’s never easy to win two games. … We had to work to score, and that’s the way it’s going to be the rest of the year.”
Next up for UAA is a visit from Wisconsin, while Minnesota travels to Denver next weekend.