COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Another unlikely hero stepped up for the second-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers Saturday night.
This time it was freshman center Mike Carman, who had the game’s first goal and then the game-winner in the Gophers’ 3-2 victory over Colorado College.
It was CC’s 18th game out of 32 this season that has been decided by one goal or fewer, including eight one-goal losses.
Similar to Friday’s 3-2 decision, the game-winner came shortly after CC’s tying mark.
At the 7:48 mark in the third period, CC right wing Mike Testwuide was rewarded for his extra effort with the tying goal.
With a loose puck slowly trailing toward the net, Minnesota goalie Jeff Frazee skated to the top of the circle and missed on a clearing attempt. Testwuide had a jump on the Gopher defense and was able to direct the puck in between Frazee’s legs and back onto his forehand to hit the empty net.
Any momentum gained from the tying effort was sucked right back out of the Tigers. Just 22 seconds later, Minnesota right wing Jay Barriball fired a tape-to-tape saucer pass to a trailing Carman, who returned the five-hole favor and beat CC goalie Matt Zaba between the legs.
“Coach [Don] Lucia and I talked before this series about me trying to be more offensive and create more plays in the offensive zone,” Carman said. “For us to come right back to score and regain the lead was huge. When you grind it out like we did, it makes the win feel that much better.”
Grinding it out is exactly what the Gophers did. Although outshot by CC 32-25, the Gophers executed with a sound defensive game and by playing shutdown hockey after regaining the lead.
“They came out and stormed us in the first period,” said CC Coach Scott Owens. “Our guys gave a pretty good effort. We’re just not scoring a lot of goals and not playing with a whole lot of confidence.”
The Tigers were outshot 15-6 in the first period.
Scoring goals early has also been crucial for CC as of late. The opposing team has scored first in eight of the Tigers’ last nine games, and they are 5-10-2 when giving up the game’s first goal.
With the game a scoreless tie after one, an odd-man rush at the 14:49 mark of the second period gave Minnesota the game’s first goal. Tony Lucia set up a perfect backhand feed on a two-on-one to Carman, who cut across the slot and sidestepped Zaba for his first tally on the night.
Minnesota was also able to get its big guns going. On another odd-man rush with less than a minute left in the second period, Blake Wheeler hit center Kyle Okposo with a cross-ice pass in the Tiger zone. Okposo cut across the slot with both CC defensemen stepping up on him, when left wing Ryan Stoa sneaked into the back door, picked up a pass by Okposo and tucked it into the net.
Tiger forward Scott McCulloch broke out of his scoring slump with a goal to cut the Gopher lead to one early in the third. Frazee kicked away a slapshot off the stick of right wing Jimmy Kilpatrick and made a sprawling, headfirst save on the rebound. He appeared to have the puck covered just in front of the goal line, but McCulloch jabbed the puck loose and forced it just beyond the line.
The goal, McCulloch’s 16th of the season, was his first in 12 games.
Despite the blunder that resulted in CC’s second goal, Minnesota’s Frazee put together another fine performance. He stopped 30 shots on the evening and held together the Gopher penalty kill, stopping multiple one-time and point-blank shots.
Frazee is unbeaten in his last 13 games and has not lost a road game during his two years at Minnesota.
The win gives pushes Minnesota to 4-0 against CC this season, and gives the Gophers a seven-point lead for first in the WCHA standings.
“We came into tonight’s game with the mindset of wanting the sweep,” said Carman. “This is a team that isn’t going to take a night off for the rest of the season.”
The Tigers have some catching up to do if they want to hold on to home-ice advantage in the playoffs. They are now tied with North Dakota for third place in the WCHA and trail Denver by one point.