MINNEAPOLIS — Behind a full-throttle power play and a hat trick from Mike Howe, Minnesota dominated Union 8-0 Thursday night in the second semifinal of the Dodge Holiday Classic at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers (10-5-4) struck early and often, scoring on their first two man-advantage situations in the game’s first four minutes, and the Dutchmen (9-8-2) had no answer either for Minnesota’s offense or its defense, which allowed only 20 shots on goal, few of the grade-A variety.
“I think our kids wanted to play well tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, “because the last time we played at home [in a sweep at the hands of Wisconsin], we didn’t play very well.”
With forwards Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel — along with goaltender Jeff Frazee — at the World Junior Championships, Lucia juggled his lines to impressive results, particularly from Howe.
“Mike is a natural goalscorer,” said Lucia. “He’s got a quick, hard shot.”
Meanwhile, for Union the game was over almost before it started.
“Their ‘D’ were just too good for us,” said Union head coach Nate Leaman. “I thought we were on our heels most of the night. … They have a great power play, a very talented team. It got us in the mode of watching, and we just watched and watched.”
Minnesota went 5-for-11 on the power play in a penalty-filled, occasionally chippy contest. Early on, the Gophers led 2-0 on first-period power-play goals by Ryan Potulny (his team-leading 16th goal) and Kris Chucko — the latter coming off a playmaking diagonal pass from Potulny.
Minnesota outshot Union 19-9 during the first 20 minutes, and Howe made it 3-0 Minnesota at 4:18 of the second period off a cross-ice pass from Ben Gordon.
The middle frame included an outright melee. Eight minutes in, Union defenseman Lane Caffaro, on a partial breakaway while shorthanded, fired the puck off the right post and swerved left, but directly into Minnesota netminder Briggs. The two went down in a heap, followed by every other player on the ice except for Union netminder Kris Mayotte.
Punches appeared to be exchanged in the pileup, but no ejections were made by referee Brad Albers’ crew, though four roughing minors were handed out as well as a major to Caffaro for charging the goaltender.
“I don’t know whether [Caffaro] could have held up or not,” said Lucia. “But the referee’s going to be quick to blow the whistle when you run the goaltender like that.”
On the resulting five-on-three, Danny Irmen notched his fifth goal of an injury-shortened season, swatting home a puck from the left edge of the crease at 9:00 to make it 4-0 Minnesota.
Minutes later, another Union penalty gave Minnesota its seventh power play, and for the fourth time the Gophers converted. After some snappy puck movement around the perimeter, Howe blasted an ankle-high shot past Mayotte on the far side at 14:15 to put the contest out of reach.
Caffaro, the Dutchmen’s leader in penalty minutes, picked up a few more late in the second period. After a verbal spat, Caffaro was sent off with a 10-minute misconduct, then got slapped with a game misconduct before he even reached the penalty box.
“He’s a kid who wants to win badly, and he has to learn to control his energy,” said Leaman. “He’s one of our best ‘D,’ and he’s going to be one of the best ‘D’ in the ECAC [if he does that].”
The Gophers put the exclamation point on the win in the third, capping the score with goals from Andy Sertich and then Howe, who finished his hat trick by flipping home a rebound on Mayotte’s back side.
Derek Peltier capped off the scoring with his first goal of the year after a string of Union penalties near the end of regulation, making the final score 8-0. Peltier and Potulny each had three-point nights for Minnesota, both with a goal and two assists.
Mayotte made 35 saves for Union, while Briggs stopped all 20 Dutchman shots on net. Union was 0-for-2 on the power play.
“I don’t think [Mayotte] got a lot of help,” said Leaman of his goaltender’s performance.
Friday, Minnesota will take on Massachusetts-Lowell in the Dodge Classic championship, at 7:05 p.m. CT. Union faces Canisius in the consolation at 4:05 p.m.