HOUGHTON, Mich. — In an almost-identical performance to their first period Friday night, the No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-1-3 overall, 9-0-3 WCHA) jumped all over the Michigan Tech Huskies (6-8-2 overall, 3-7-2 WCHA), netting three first-period goals and skating away with a 5-1 win on Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
The Gophers controlled the play from the opening faceoff and never looked back, netting a quick goal just 1:14 in.
Junior forward Mike Howe netted his second of the season after a nice pass from sophomore center Blake Wheeler, as Howe ripped a shot past Husky sophomore goaltender Rob Nolan. Wheeler found the late-trailing Howe after being set up on the rush by freshman forward Jay Barriball.
“It felt good to contribute again,” said Howe. “Going into this break, it was nice for us as a team to get the sweep.”
Just under two minutes later, freshman forward Tony Lucia notched his fourth of the year and second of the weekend at 3:11. Junior defenseman Alex Goligoski moved the puck across the point to captain Mike Vannelli, whose point-blank blast rebounded to Lucia.
“We made some mistakes early,” said Huskies head coach Jamie Russell. “Down 2-0, we started to play a little bit better.”
The Huskies began to muster some offense as junior center Peter Rouleau had a couple of solid shots. The first came off a pass from freshman center Alex Gagne when Rouleau was moving toward the net. The second came about a minute later when Rouleau stole the puck from a Gopher defender and drove to the net, but sophomore goalie Jeff Frazee was equal to the task.
The Gophers extended their lead to three on the power play as sophomore forward Ryan Stoa picked up his eighth of the year with a redirection of a shot from Goligoski. Vannelli also assisted on the goal.
“It was almost like a replay of last night’s game with the three first-period goals,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “That’s a big hill for the opponent to climb.”
Rouleau, a local product from Hancock, Mich., had another golden opportunity early in the second period, as he flew down the ice, was fed a puck in his wheelhouse, and unloaded a blast that Frazee had a tough time handling.
The Huskies, after playing a much more even period in the second, finally broke through as freshman forward Ryan Bunger netted his second goal of the year and second in consecutive Saturday nights when he pushed a rebound past a sprawled Frazee at 10:11. Sophomore forward Ryan Angelow took the initial shot off a feed from freshman defenseman Eli Vlaisavljevich.
“I’m getting out there for quite a few shifts a game here, and that’s been great,” said Bunger. “It’s unfortunate that my goals are coming in losing efforts.”
Barriball gave the Gophers back their three-goal lead when he broke loose for a breakaway goal, his 10th of the season, just 1:31 into the third. Barriball, after being led by freshman defenseman Erik Johnson for the break, drew Nolan to one side of the net, firing the puck back in the other direction. Junior defenseman Derek Peltier also assisted on the goal.
With a shot up over Nolan’s glove and into the back of the net, freshman Kyle Okposo netted his 15th of the campaign at the 3:11 mark. Senior forward Tyler Hirsch came out from the behind the net to find an open Okposo. Stoa also assisted on the goal.
Seven minutes into the period, Barriball nearly had his second of the game when he found himself behind the Husky defenders, but Nolan stood his ground.
The Huskies did manage to net a second goal when assistant captain Tyler Skworchinski picked up his fifth goal of the season by putting a low shot along the ice past Frazee at the 16:57 mark. Skworchinski’s effort was set up by junior winger Jimmy Kerr, his “Bump and Grind” linemate, and sophomore defenseman Geoff Kinrade.
“Jimmy made a great play on the wall,” said Skworchinski. “I just wanted to get the puck on the net.”
The Gophers finished the game one for four on the power play. The Huskies couldn’t find a way to break through on five opportunities.
Both teams finished with 27 shots on goal.
With the win, the nation’s top team extends its unbeaten streak to 18, with a record of 15-0-3 over that span.
“This is a nice culmination to the first half of the season,” said Lucia. “We’ve still got a tough road ahead.”
The Huskies, who started the season 6-1-0 overall, have now dropped seven of nine, all in WCHA play.
“We need to just get back to playing hard for 60 minutes,” said Bunger. “Hard work for 60 minutes will beat skill any day.”