MINNEAPOLIS — Coming off a 13-goal explosion last weekend, Minnesota again put plenty of shots on net Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
Few — two, to be precise — found their way past Colorado College netminder Matt Zaba, but that was enough as the Gophers opened their WCHA season with a 2-0 win over the Tigers.
After watching his team get stonewalled for 35 minutes, Minnesota captain Mike Vannelli broke through with a power-play goal late in the second period, and freshman surprise Jay Barriball continued his lamplighting ways with the insurance tally in the third.
Gopher goalie Kellen Briggs made the key stops, earning his school-record 12th career shutout with 20 saves. At the other end, Zaba stopped 34 of 36 shots in a sterling, though losing, effort.
“Zaba was very good, Kellen was outstanding, and it was a good, hard-fought win for us,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
After five nonconference games, a young Minnesota squad adjusted quickly to WCHA play, impressing CC head coach Scott Owens.
“I don’t care how young they are, they’re big and they’re strong and they’re fast,” said Owens.
“They’re a good team,” agreed Zaba. “It seems like every time we play the Gophers, we give up 30-something shots.”
Early on and with Minnesota dominating possession, Gopher Blake Wheeler appeared to score the game’s first goal, but after a lengthy video review by referee Derek Shepherd, the tally was disallowed due to goaltender interference.
With the Gophers’ momentum briefly halted, Colorado College got a golden opportunity when, with two minutes to go in the first period, Minnesota freshman Mike Carman was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for checking from behind.
Paradoxically, Minnesota outshot CC 3-2 during the five-minute power play, and CC’s only good scoring opportunity came when Scott McCulloch took a home-run pass for a breakaway. After a moment’s hesitation, Briggs recovered to block the point-blank shot and keep the game scoreless.
CC’s inability to convert was an obvious touchstone on a night when goals were hard to come by.
“We’ve been pretty good on the power play, and I was a little disappointed we weren’t able to get a goal on that,” said Owens.
Afterward, the Gophers resumed their attack, with Tyler Hirsch standing out on a couple of pretty moves, and Evan Kaufmann and Jim O’Brien working a little two-on-one, though neither resulted in any scoring thanks to Zaba.
“Zaba made some unbelievable saves on those back-door passes,” said Lucia. “The key is that we’re getting traffic in front.”
Midway through the second period, CC’s Jake Gannon took consecutive penalties, and the Gophers finally made the Tigers pay. On the second power play, Zaba made one more great save, stoning Alex Goligoski on what looked like a no-brainer goal from the back door, but moments later Vannelli laced a pinpoint shot into the upper left corner of the net at 15:46.
Ben Gordon and Goligoski earned the assists on Vannelli’s first goal of the season, as Minnesota took a 1-0 lead on its 23rd shot on goal.
The Gophers continued to buzz the CC net in the third period, but Zaba was there, somehow deflecting a shoulder-high shot by Ryan Stoa wide of the net.
At 8:43, the Tigers were dinged for an unusual penalty on co-captain Brandon Straub, who was whistled for playing with a broken stick after breaking the blade and continuing to carry the remainder for several seconds.
Just after the expiration of Straub’s penalty, Barriball again showed his nose for the net. Parked at the back door, the right winger stuffed the rebound of Wheeler’s shot into the empty half of the net.
Barriball’s sixth goal of the brief season made it 2-0 Minnesota at 11:01 of the third. Gordon earned the second assist, his second of the game and sixth of the year.
“Just hang around the net and work hard, and the goals will come,” said Barriball in summarizing his offensive philosophy.
A final penalty on Minnesota’s Kyle Okposo gave CC a last gasp, and Owens pulled Zaba with a minute to go for the six-on-four, but the Tigers couldn’t take advantage as Minnesota held on for a two-goal win that didn’t fully reflect the Gophers’ long stretches of puck possession and quality scoring chances.
“I thought if Zaba doesn’t have the night he has, it’s a 5-0 game, at least,” said Owens.
Minnesota (5-1-0, 1-0-0 WCHA) and Colorado College (3-3-1, 0-1-0 WCHA) rematch Saturday night at Mariucci in the series finale.