MINNEAPOLIS — One day after winning in a blowout, Minnesota showed it also knows how to rally for a victory.
The Gophers spotted Massachusetts-Lowell a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 15 minutes, then scored five straight goals to claim their seventh straight Dodge Holiday Classic, 5-4, on Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
“It was such a strange first period,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “You look up and we’re down 3-0, and shots are 20-something to seven [in favor of the Gophers], and we’re losing. But that’s hockey.”
Ryan Potulny scored two goals for a total of six points on the weekend, and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for his efforts.
The key goal, however, might have come from Gopher forward Ben Gordon. Down 3-2 entering the third period, Minnesota got a break to tie the game.
Gordon drove in from the right side and, from below the goal line, flipped what looked like a centering pass out front. The puck hit Lowell defenseman Cleve Kinley’s skate and bounced cleanly into the net to knot the score at 3 at 4:40 of the third.
“I was trying to give it to Gino [Guyer],” said Gordon, “and it hit his skate and went in.”
Two minutes later, Potulny gave the Gophers (11-5-4) their first lead of the night. The junior from Grand Forks, N.D., netted his second goal of the game by potting the rebound of linemate Ryan Stoa’s shot.
Peter Vetri made the initial save for the River Hawks (6-11-0), but could not control the rebound, and Potulny flipped it home just inside the right post at 6:31 for his 18th goal of the season and a 4-3 edge.
Mike Howe added to the lead at 10:17, netting his fourth goal of the tournament. Minnesota captain Guyer fed Howe from behind the net, and Howe’s one-timer beat Vetri low to make it 5-3.
Lowell made it interesting down the stretch, narrowing the gap to 5-4 at 16:10 when Danny O’Brien put away a big rebound of defenseman Grant Farrell’s slapshot. But the Gophers kept the River Hawks largely outside the zone late, and UML wasn’t able to pull Vetri until 24 seconds remained.
“Obviously, we were playing a very talented team, a very well-coached team,” said UML head coach Blaise MacDonald. “They weren’t going to be fazed by a 3-0 deficit. We could have used a break or two … but that’s the rub of the grain.”
The first period was almost all Minnesota on the ice, but nearly all Lowell on the scoreboard.
With the Gophers dominating early, Mark Pandolfo opened the scoring for Lowell at 6:34, scoring off a draw in the Gopher zone. Elias Godoy won the faceoff back to Pandolfo, whose one-timer beat Kellen Briggs to his right for Pandolfo’s team-leading ninth goal of the season.
After an unsuccessful Minnesota power play, Bobby Robins gave Lowell a two-goal lead. Skating four-on-four, Robins drove into the zone on the left side and cut around Gopher defenseman R.J. Anderson. Robins slipped the puck through Briggs’ poke-check and banged it inside the right post at 12:20 for his sixth goal of the year.
On another Gopher power play, Vetri stonewalled Potulny with a big glove save, and the River Hawks extended their lead as the penalty expired. Exiting the box, J.R. Bria picked up a clear at center ice and went in. A shot on goal from Godoy was saved by Briggs, but Derek Peltier’s attempt to clear the rebound bounced off Robins’ leg and into the net at 14:45.
Eighteen seconds later, Minnesota earned one back thanks to the fourth line. Off a Tom Pohl pass, Peter Kennedy’s wraparound attempt was blocked by Vetri, but Justin Bostrom cleaned up the rebound for his fifth goal of the season, narrowing the UML lead to 3-1.
Minnesota swarmed the River Hawk net for the remainder of the first period, but could not get another goal before heading to the locker rooms. For the first 20 minutes, the Gophers outshot the River Hawks 24-7.
“Their goaltender made some really good saves in the first period,” said Lucia. “You have to stay with a game like that.”
The second period saw play even out, though Minnesota had the territorial advantage, and cashed in late. With Minnesota on a rush, Alex Goligoski hit Danny Irmen in stride with a cross-ice pass. Irmen cut across the crease and stuffed a shot at Vetri. The puck appeared to bang off Potulny’s skate and in at 17:04 to narrow the River Hawk lead to 3-2.
“I think getting that second goal was very important,” said Lucia. “If we go through the second period and don’t score, that makes it much more difficult.”
“We came in after the second and said, we’ve really got to bear down and get this win,” said Gordon.
For the game, Vetri made 44 saves and Briggs 17. Special teams were not a factor, as both teams were 0-for-4 on the power play.
The All-Tournament team consisted of Potulny, Howe and Robins at forward, defensemen Goligoski and Peltier, and Briggs in goal.
Minnesota next hosts Niagara Jan. 6-7, while Lowell returns to Hockey East play that same weekend at Maine.