College Hockey:
Gopher Power Play Overpowers Michigan

— For Minnesota’s power play, the game was right out of dream, scoring five of six Golden-Gopher goals.

For Michigan’s Billy Sauer, who allowed six goals on 12 shots, it was an absolute nightmare.

Ryan Potulny, Phil Kessel and Alex Goligoski anchored Minnesota’s 6-3 rout of No. 1 Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase, an annual battle between the CCHA and WCHA. Potulny notched an all-power play hat trick. Kessel had two goals and an assist, and Goligoski assisted on four of five power-play goals.

“Obviously our power play is clicking,” Goligoski said. “It’s nice to get our confidence up. Playing here in the CCHA, it seems everything’s a little more open, so there’s a lot more specialty plays and a lot more offense.”

Michigan’s T.J. Hensick beat goaltender Kellen Briggs with a glove-side snapshot just 20 seconds into the contest. But the early goal didn’t seem to faze the No. 7 Golden Gophers a bit.

Potulny charged back for Minnesota with two power-play goals in under two minutes. On the first, he beat Sauer cleanly with a sharp angle shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle. On the go-ahead goal, Goligoski fed Potulny a bouncing puck in front of the Michigan net. Potulny calmed the puck and batted it past Sauer.

“I thought we came out with the energy there in the opening and it was really good to see that, but I think we just lost our composure,” Michigan captain Andrew Ebbett said. “We were a little too excited for this game.”

Kessel extended the Golden Gopher lead to two with seven minutes to go in the first. Kessel darted down on a two-on-one and, never hesitating to pass, snapped the puck inside the left post.

“You trust him,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Whatever he wants to do, he’s going to make the right play. He’s unselfish more often than not in that situation, but he’s got a lot of confidence and he can shoot a puck.”

Minnesota capped the period off with its third man-advantage tally. Blake Wheeler took the puck backhand to forehand to the left side of the crease, finding Mike Howe for the quick shot past Sauer.

Brandon Naurato cut Minnesota’s lead 30 seconds later. On a quick transition, Andrew Cogliano backhanded a pass to Naurato, who leaned into a one-timer that sailed by Briggs.

After a high-flying, six goal first period, penalties slowed the middle frame to a crawl. The Golden Gophers spent half the period in the penalty box, yielding three five-on-three advantages for Michigan.

But a combination of solid Minnesota penalty killing and an out-of-sync Michigan power play allowed the Wolverines only one goal with the man advantage. Michigan had come into the game as the top-ranked power play in the nation.

“I thought the penalty kill was the key in the game,” Lucia said. “We worked on it hard this week, emphasizing the point that Michigan was 30 percent on the power play, and that it was going to be important (to stop them) if we were going to win the game. We were able to win the game because we won the specialty battles.”

On the third five-on-three, Matt Hunwick finally banked a shot past Briggs to trim the score to 4-3.

Tyler Swystun was whistled for Michigan’s only penalty of the period, but the Wolverines were unable to stop Minnesota’s continuing power-play explosion. Potulny capped his hat trick when he beat a sprawling Sauer for the Golden Gopher’s fourth power-play tally of the night.

Minnesota chased Sauer from the net with its fifth power-play goal early in the third period. Wheeler patiently feathered a pass to Kessel on the tip of the crease. Kessel poked the puck through Sauer’s five hole, signaling the goaltending change. Noah Ruden replaced Sauer for the end of the third, stopping all 10 shots he faced.

It was just Michigan’s second loss of the season and the first time the Wolverines had allowed six goals at home since March 4, 2000, in a 6-3 loss to Bowling Green.

Both teams will complete the Showcase tomorrow night, with Michigan facing No. 2 Wisconsin at home.

“The only thing we can do is control how we play,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “And we know we can play better than we played. Regardless of the opponent – we know we might not be as good as Minnesota – we have to be better tomorrow night.”

Minnesota heads up to East Lansing to play No. 18 Michigan State, who lost 3-1 to Wisconsin on Friday.

“My biggest concern heading into there is that there was so much specialties. We’re going to have to use other people, because some guys got a lot ice time between the power play and the penalty kill,” Lucia said.

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