MINNEAPOLIS — Led on offense by three-point nights from Danny Irmen and Tyler Hirsch, Minnesota won an exhibition match against the U.S. Under-18 team, 7-5 Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
The contest was of special interest to Minnesota fans due to the presence on the Under-18 team of two Gopher recruits — forward Ryan Stoa and goaltender Jeff Frazee — as well as Phil Kessel, the consensus top available prospect in the nation, who was making his official recruiting visit to Minnesota this weekend.
Kessel certainly did nothing to alter the Gophers’ interest in him, scoring two goals and adding two assists for the U.S. The contest also resolved little in terms of Minnesota’s fluid goaltending situation — with number-one netminder Kellen Briggs sitting out, backup Justin Johnson allowed the U.S. team five goals on 18 shots.
The Golden Gophers opened the contest with the first goal, only to see the Under-18 Team respond with two goals in less than a minute. Andy Sertich picked up the game’s first marker at 2:20, taking an Evan Kaufmann pass at the slot and beating Frazee with a wrist shot to the stick side. Hirsch was credited with the second assist on the play.
The U.S. stormed back with two goals in 57 seconds, beginning with Kessel’s lamplighter at 5:35. Nathan Gerbe took a shot from the high slot, with the rebound coming out front to sweep past Johnson on the glove side. The goal was Kessel’s 32nd of the season.
The Under-18 Team took its first lead a short time later with Jason Lawrence’s 24th goal of the year. Taking a Kessel feed, Lawrence deked Johnson out of position and knocked the puck into the net for the 2-1 lead. The two goals were on the Under-18 Team’s first three shots. For the period, Minnesota outshot the U.S. team, 14-5.
The Gophers turned the tables in the second period, scoring three goals to take a 4-3 lead. Minnesota began its comeback with an Irmen goal at 9:13. Ryan Potulny took a Hirsch pass, used some nifty moves to lose a defender and fed Irmen with a cross-zone pass. Irmen deked Frazee and popped the puck into the net on the right side.
The Golden Gophers made it 3-2 at 13:32 with Garrett Smaagaard deflecting a P.J. Atherton slapshot from the point to the top shelf past Frazee.
Minnesota gained its first two-goal lead of the night at 16:43 when Kaufmann’s wraparound attempt squirted across the goalmouth for Hirsch to knock in on Frazee’s glove side.
Just 32 seconds later, the U.S. Under-18 Team cut the lead to one with Bill Sweatt’s 11th goal of the season. Peter Mueller passed across the low slot for Sweatt to tip in on Johnson’s glove side.
The third period opened with the U.S. knotting the game at four only 23 seconds into the stanza, but Minnesota scored three of the next four goals to cruise to the win. Kessel got his second goal of the game on the power play at :23, firing a blistering one-timer from low on the left circle to beat Johnson to the stick side.
But Minnesota’s Mike Vannelli immediately made it 5-4 16 seconds later. Vannelli’s shot from the point got through traffic and Frazee’s pads, hit the pipe and bounced off the back of Frazee and into the net. Irmen earned the lone assist on the play.
At 2:29, Minnesota pushed the score to 6-4 with Barry Tallackson picking up a deflected puck from an Alex Goligoski shot and flipping the puck into the open net.
The Under-18 Team pulled within one at 8:44 with Stoa scoring off a rush up ice. Mueller and Kessel got the assists. Minnesota wrapped up the scoring at 19:06 with an empty-net goal by Gino Guyer.
The Golden Gophers outshot the U.S., 37-18, for the game. Minnesota went 0-for-7 on the power play, while the Under-18 Team went 1-for-3.
Johnson picked up the win with 13 saves, while Frazee took the loss despite 30 stops.