MINNEAPOLIS — This one had it all.
One night after a defensive struggle, Denver and Minnesota played a barnburner with a little bit of everything: 81 combined shots on goal; 115 minutes in penalties that included two game misconducts; a hat trick; a spirited rally from a three-goal deficit; and plenty of bad blood.
After the commotion died down, No. 1 Minnesota had held off fifth-ranked Denver for a 5-4 win and a series split. Captain Mike Vannelli was the hero for the Golden Gophers, scoring a hat trick in the wildest game of the season at Mariucci Arena, with all three goals coming in the second period.
“Old-time hockey,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “It was intense from the beginning, obviously carryover from last night.”
Vannelli’s first goal gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead and his third made it 5-3. Denver never led but refused to fold, consistently chipping away to keep the game a thriller.
Midway through the third period, Vannelli went off for elbowing, and Pioneer Geoff Paukovich again used his sizable frame to earn a critical goal. Patrick Mullen’s low-angle shot from the left side hit Paukovich, parked in front of Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee (41 saves), and bounced into the net to narrow the Minnesota lead to 5-4.
With 2:07 left in regulation, Denver called timeout and pulled goaltender Glenn Fisher (31 saves) for the six-on-five, but Minnesota hung on for the win.
“I think it’s a positive for both teams,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky of the split, which kept Minnesota seven points ahead of the Pioneers in the WCHA standings.
Saturday was a turnaround from the 1-0 series opener, both in who won and how it was done. The game was also marred by a full-on brawl late in the first period, with the Gophers leading thanks to Kyle Okposo’s 16th goal of the season.
On the play, Pioneer defenseman Steven Cook appeared to put a shoulder into Minnesota’s Jim O’Brien, who crashed full-speed into Fisher.
The collision, which involved the same two players as in Friday’s goaltender-interference episode, inflamed tempers, and a melee ensued, with plenty of pushing, shoving, grabbing, and Denver’s J.P. Testwuide atop Minnesota’s Ben Gordon, swinging away.
When it was sorted out by referee Todd Anderson’s crew, 69 minutes of penalties were handed out. The result was to Denver’s advantage, as O’Brien was assessed a charging major despite the shove from Cook, and both Testwuide and Gordon were given fighting majors and game disqualifications.
“The officials realized they had a tiger by the tail,” said Gwozdecky of the officials’ performance in a game that was chippy from start to finish. “They had to clamp down as best they could.”
Lucia was less equivocal, referring to Gordon’s major as “five minutes for getting punched.” Of the charging call against O’Brien, he said, “He got hit into the goaltender. He should have done a better job letting up, but he got shoved.”
The game turned into a shootout in the second, with a total of seven goals. First, at 6:58, came Justin Bostrom’s second goal of the year. Camped out in the slot, Bostrom redirected blueliner David Fischer’s blast inside the right post to make it 2-0 Minnesota.
That was one of several scoring chances assisted by bodies blocking views, changing shots and generally making life difficult for the netminders.
“Both teams made a conscious effort to take away the eyes of the goaltenders,” said Gwozdecky. “It was tough to see through all that traffic.”
Thirty-one seconds later, Vannelli extended the lead to three with a great individual effort, stepping around a defender and shooting into traffic. The puck hit a body and Vannelli retrieved it and fired it home around Fisher.
The Pioneers were of no mind to let Minnesota’s outburst go unanswered, and leading scorer Brock Trotter narrowed the gap to 3-1 immediately. A rebound came free in the slot to Adrian Veideman, who flipped the puck across the crease to Trotter, and the redshirt freshman backhanded it home.
Then, with Gopher Alex Goligoski off for high-sticking, the Pioneers executed a near-replay of Friday’s only goal. DU’s Keith Seabrook fired from the point as the big body of Paukovich blocked Frazee’s view. This time, Paukovich was only a screen, as the puck trickled through to narrow the Minnesota advantage to 3-2 at 13:09.
Late in the second, Frazee hit the deck after being high-sticked by Pioneer Tom May, but May was accompanied to the box by Gopher Mike Howe, who got called for interference on May.
Denver’s Ryan Dingle went off for high-sticking seconds later, and after one more minute, it became a Minnesota five-on-three when Fisher got nailed for slashing. Vannelli made the Pioneers pay, skimming a wrister along the ice to make it 4-2 at 17:46.
The senior defenseman wasn’t done, though. With the five-on-four still on, Vannelli one-timed a slapshot under the crossbar to restore the Gopher lead to three. Vannelli’s third goal of the game and seventh of the season was greeted by the expected shower of hats — along with several dozen promotional posters handed out as part of “Minnesota Hockey Day.”
“Peewees? Bantams? I don’t know,” said Vannelli when asked about his last hat trick.
Later in the second, the parade to the box, continued, and so did the scoring. Howe and Mike Carman of Minnesota left in rapid sequence, and on the five-on-three, DU defenseman Chris Butler zipped home the Pioneers’ third goal of the game four seconds before the end of the period.
That sent the game to the third with Minnesota holding a 5-3 edge, setting up the fourth Pioneer goal, the frantic finish and, eventually, the Gophers’ 21st victory of the season.
Minnesota (21-3-3, 13-2-3 WCHA) next hosts North Dakota Friday and Saturday. Denver (18-8-2, 10-6-2 WCHA) receives a visit from St. Cloud State for the same two nights.