MINNEAPOLIS — Led by tournament MVP Tyler Hirsch, the Minnesota Golden Gophers cruised past Northern Michigan 4-1 Thursday night, earning their sixth consecutive championship at their own Dodge Holiday Classic.
“It was a good hockey game. We looked like the Russians, moving the puck around in the first,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
The Gophers outshot NMU 20-7 in the opening period, with Hirsch tallying two goals to stake Minnesota to a lead it never relinquished.
The first came at 7:37 on a great move by Hirsch to slide the puck behind Wildcat goaltender Tuomas Tarkki, who was caught flatfooted on the play. Gino Guyer fed Hirsch for the only assist.
At 12:37 Hirsch tapped in a rebound for a power-play goal on a Ryan Potulny shot. Guyer was credited with the second assist.
The Wildcats elevated their play in the second, outshooting the Gophers 16-7 despite being forced to kill a two-man advantage to start the period, as well as two additional minor penalties.
At 14:14, on the power play, Darin Olver brought Northern Michigan within a goal, rifling in a rebound on a low-angle shot from 10 feet out. Jamie Milam took the initial shot, with the second assist to Tim Hartung.
“I thought we turned the tables in the second. We had a lot of good chances in the second,” said Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle.
NMU scored only the one goal, though, as Kellen Briggs stopped 15 shots in the frame.
“They stepped it up in the second. Kellen made some big saves,” Lucia said.
“Kellen saved us. We gave up way too many grade-A scoring chances,” added Potulny.
Potulny added a critical four-on-three power-play goal at 3:38 in the third, giving the Gophers a 3-1 lead. Potulny wristed the shot off the left shoulder of Tarkki.
“The third goal was big. It put us behind the eight-ball,” said Kyle.
“I was looking for Hirsch, but the lane never opened. I took a quick shot on net and he was not ready for it,” said Potulny of his nation-leading 18th goal.
At 12:32 Danny Irmen put the game out of reach, directing the puck backward against his momentum past Tarkki.
The final three minutes of the game turned ugly, including two battles that resulted in game disqualifications for Minnesota’s Ben Gordon and Northern Michigan’s Geoff Waugh. Each will miss his team’s next contest as a result.
“The unfortunate thing was Ben ‘Killer’ Gordon getting in a scrum,” quipped Lucia.
The Gophers ended up outshooting the Wildcats 41-30 for the game.
Next, Minnesota heads to Boston University to close Walter Brown Arena on Jan 2 and open Agganis Arena on Jan 3, while Northern Michigan plays host to Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 7-8.
F Tyler Hirsch, Minnesota
F Ryan Potulny, Minnesota
F Darin Olver, Northern Michigan
D Chris Harrington, Minnesota
D Jeff Caron, Merrimack
G Kellen Briggs, Minnesota