MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s rookies exploded Friday, starting with a three-goal outburst in the first period on the way to a 6-2 victory over Alaska-Anchorage that completed a Gopher sweep of the Seawolves in their WCHA first-round series.
All six Minnesota goals on the evening were scored by freshmen.
“It was a freshman night for us tonight.” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia of his underclassmen’s efforts. “That is what you want to see, is your freshmen getting stronger at the end of the year.”
Phil Kessel started the rookie showcase by scoring at 4:38 of the opening period, skating the puck into the zone for a give-and-go with fellow freshman Blake Wheeler.
“Last night we came out a little flat-footed. Coach wanted us to come out and take control,” said Wheeler, who had two goals and two assists on the night.
Wheeler scored a power-play pinball goal off Seawolves goaltender Nathan Lawson’s head at 7:23. The shot by Derek Peltier came from the center, and as Lawson was falling forward the puck hit the forehead section of his helmet and popped straight out front to Wheeler. He buried it over the belly-flopped Lawson.
“It [the puck] was just bouncing around. Ben Gordon took a whack at it first and missed. I took a nine-iron shot to it,” said Wheeler.
Ryan Stoa finished off the all-freshman first-period outburst at 15:13 with a cleanup power-play goal. The play was set up by Peltier again, from the center lane. This time Lawson left the puck in the crease by his left pad for the tap-in goal.
“We really did not want to come back tomorrow night [for a third game]. The goal was to score early and often.” said a confident Stoa.
The Gophers had the Seawolves on their heels from the start of the game, drawing numerous penalties and outshooting Anchorage 22-3 in the opening stanza.
“They came out and picked it up a notch. The put the foot on the accelerator,” said Seawolves coach Dave Shyiak.
Stoa continued the freshman power surge at 9:11 of the second period on another power-play goal assisted by Peltier. That Peltier shot came from the right half-wall at a 45-degree angle and Stoa redirected the puck through Lawson’s five-hole.
Senior netminder and Gopher nemesis John DeCaro relived Lawson moments later.
“The game was over in the first, and John is a senior,” said Shyiak on replacing Lawson.
UAA forward Eric Walsky opened the scoring for the Seawolves at 17:01 of the second on an unassisted breakaway goal. He picked up the loose puck just in front of the Gopher blueline, made a last-second move to his backhand and lifted the puck over the left shoulder of Minnesota netminder Kellen Briggs.
Kessel put the game out of reach by scoring his second goal of the game at 11:08, as Danny Irmen earned his 100th career point by assisting on the play.
Irmen is the 77th player to reach that total for the Maroon and Gold, and the third this season. It was the first goal of the game scored on DeCaro.
After a sequence in which Hobey Baker hopeful Ryan Potulny led the play for two short-range opportunities, Alaska-Anchorage took the puck down the ice on odd-man rush and shot from just inside the zone, a blast by Justin Bourne that caught Briggs napping.
Wheeler capped off the scoring at 18:20 of the third, assisted by Kessel and Gordon.
Potulny, who came into Saturday with a seven-game point-scoring streak, was held scoreless on the night.
With the loss, the season ends for the Seawolves, while the Gophers advance to the WCHA Final Five. They will play the winner of Thursday night’s play-in game at 7 p.m. on Friday night.