COLORADO COLLEGE, Colo. — Second ranked Minnesota came into the World Arena for the first time in over two years Friday evening and quietly took care of business, downing No. 14 Colorado College by a score of 3-2.
Entering the third period with the score 1-1, Minnesota left winger Evan Kaufmann proved to be the game breaker, scoring both goals to lead the Gophers to their 24th win of the season.
Despite the final score, the Golden Gophers played like the WCHA leaders, controlling the tempo of the game throughout three periods and limiting CC’s scoring opportunities. Minnesota out shot CC 32-17.
“Our guys played great defensively and didn’t turn the puck over,” said Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs. “We have to play smart around this time, especially toward the end of the year.”
Colorado College freshman center Bill Sweatt gave the Tigers life late in the third period on the power play. Braydon Cox came out from behind the net and hit Sweatt in the slot on a tape-to-tape pass. Sweatt’s wrist shot beat a falling Briggs glove side to tie the game.
It didn’t take long for Minnesota to respond. Coming off a breakout, defenseman R.J. Anderson hit a streaking Kaufmann just outside the Tiger blue line.
Kaufmann slipped past the CC defense and broke in on Zaba with a wrist shot that deflected off Zaba’s shoulder and trickled past the goal line.
Anchored by Kaufmann, it was the fourth line that sparked the Gophers, who were back in action Friday following a bye week.
Early in the third, Minnesota center Jim O’Brien circled deep to the right of Zaba and left a drop pass to for Kaufmann, who had a wide-open lane to the net and beat Zaba high short side.
“It was the type of game we expected,” said Minnesota Coach Don Lucia. “All four lines contributed and it showed that we can play in any situation.”
The Gophers controlled most of the first period with a pressing attack deep in the Tiger zone. Despite several CC turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones, the defense held Minnesota to mostly outside perimeter shots.
Freshman forward Jay Barriball opened the scoring at the 13:33 mark on the Gopher’s second power play opportunity. A point shot that went wide off the stick of defenseman Mike Vannelli resulted in a perfectly placed deflection off the back boards and on to the tape of Barriball, who was waiting at the corner of the crease to slap the puck into an open net for his 15th tally of the season.
It was the fifth consecutive game the Gophers have scored a power play goal.
The Tigers answered back just three minutes later on their first power play opportunity.
Defenseman Brian Connelly fooled Briggs with a fake wind-up from the point, then hit center Chad Rau at the top of the left circle, who tucked the shot inside the top right corner to beat a sprawling Briggs for his 10th goal on the year.
“We played a strong first period, but CC got better as the game went on,” Lucia said. “Holding a team like that to 17 shots is a great thing it happened that we got the extra bounce tonight.”
Minnesota goalie and Colorado Springs native Briggs agreed with coach Lucia.
“We got some bounces our way and it feels good to come out on top,” said Briggs. “It was great to win in front of the family and friends.”
Minnesota is now 12-1-1 on the road this season, and has held their opponents to two or fewer goals in their last nine road games. They will look to complete the season sweep against CC tomorrow night.
The Tigers have not been swept since losing twice at Minnesota in late October.
The loss is CC’s fifth straight against the Golden Gophers.
Trailing the University of Denver by only one point for the third spot in the WCHA, tomorrow night’s game marks an opportune time for CC to collect two points and jump ahead of the idle Pioneers.
The puck drops at 7:07 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net North and FSN Rocky Mountain.