MINNEAPOLIS — No. 1 Minnesota made sure Alabama-Huntsville stood little chance of upsetting them in their own tournament Friday as the Gophers fueled by three first period goals cruised past the Chargers, 3-1, to advance to the championship game of the Dodge Holiday Classic at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
The Gophers (16-1-3 overall, 9-0-3 WCHA) got things going early on a Ben Gordon tic-tac-toe power play goal at 5:36. Blake Wheeler fed Alex Goligoski who steered the puck to Gordon for the one-timer to give UM a 1-0 lead.
UAH goalie Marc Narduzzi kept the Chargers (5-13-1 overall, 3-7-0 CHA) in the game until the final two minutes of the first period, keeping the game within one goal until the final 1:16 of the period.
After Wheeler was stuffed on a break away, he regained control of the puck and hit Ryan Flynn in the slot. The freshman buried the one timer at 18:44 to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead.
Just 53 seconds later, Jay Barriball and Jim O’Brien played give-and-go, as Barriball found O’Brien on the doorstep for yet another one-timer to end first period scoring at 19:37. Minnesota out shot Huntsville 22-6 during the opening 20 minutes.
“It’s important [to get the early lead] when you play a team like that because the only thing they really cling to is hope,” Wheeler said. “We knew they were going to come out and give it their best effort so we had to come out and do the same.”
“We took a couple of stupid penalties and couldn’t get any flow from the bench,” said Chargers head coach Doug Ross. “We made some adjustments and played better in the second and third period.”
Narduzzi stopped all 15 shots he faced in the second, keeping the score at 3-0. After two, Minnesota held a 37-13 edge in shots.
“That is probably the best game I have ever seen [Narduzzi] play,” Ross said. “He hasn’t played much the last three years, but he played a great game and I think he has a lot of potential.”
The junior goalie also kept the Gophers off the board in the third, stopping all 11 shots in the final 20 minutes for a game total of 45.
“I thought their goalie played very well,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Huntsville broke the shutout at 19:48 of the final frame as Grant Selinger buried a rebound shot past Minnesota’s Kellen Briggs to break the shut out bid with just 12 seconds remaining. The note was the only sour one on the night for the nation’s undisputed No. 1 team. Joe Federoff earned the only assist.
“I thought Kellen gave us a great game,” Lucia said. “It was a little disappointing to give up that goal in the last seconds when you have an offensive zone face-off.
“We got a little sloppy defensively the last half, but when you haven’t played or practiced in that long, that will happen a little bit.”
Briggs stopped 25 shots in the victory, and will likely play again Saturday with usual second game starter Jeff Frazee away at the World Junior Championships. Four other Gophers including leading scorer Kyle Okposo joined Frazee on the United States team and will not play this weekend.
Alabama-Huntsville will look to rebound Saturday against Massachusetts in the third-place game of the Dodge Holiday Classic. Face-off is scheduled for 4:07 p.m.
Minnesota will take on Ferris State in the championship, which tied UMass in the first semi-final game Friday afternoon, but won in a shootout. The final gets underway shortly after 7 p.m.
Both games are at Mariucci Arena.