ST. PAUL, Minn. — There would be no slow start for Minnesota Saturday.
Jeff Frazee made 44 saves and junior blueliner R.J. Anderson scored his first collegiate goal to spark the Gophers to a 4-3 win over Michigan in the title game of the Ice Breaker Invitational at the Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota scored the game’s first two goals and held off the Wolverines, who repeatedly narrowed the lead to one but were never able to net the equalizer. The Gophers’ start helped salve memories of Friday’s game against Rensselaer, in which Minnesota had to dig out from a 3-0 hole late in the second period.
“I thought that unlike last night, we came out with real good energy,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We made better plays and decisions at the offensive blue line. I really felt that from game one to game two [this season] that we would be a little more relaxed.”
“Minnesota came out much better than last night, and we were on our heels,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “You have to give the other team credit, but we can do better defensively.”
Early on, Michigan’s Chad Kolarik hit the pipe on a shot from the right circle, but neither team managed many quality scoring chances in the first half of the first period.
That changed at 11:26, when Anderson unleashed a slapshot from the right point that appeared to nick a body in the high slot before settling in the net to make it 1-0 Minnesota. Blake Wheeler doubled the Gopher lead two minutes later, steaming up the left side before cutting across the top of the crease and tucking the puck inside the right post at 13:06.
Just like that, the Gophers were off and running with a lead they never relinquished.
Said Anderson, “It’s nice to finally get a goal here, but more importantly, we got the win. It really tested us because they were coming in the third period, and we weathered the storm.”
The Wolverines got their first power play four minutes into the second period, but Frazee robbed Carl Hagelin on a point-blank shot to keep Michigan off the board.
Michigan got off the schneid midway through the second. In a scrum around the crease, the puck squirted down to Tim Miller, and the junior winger smartly centered to rookie Matt Rust, who one-timed it inside the left post for his first career goal and a 2-1 score.
The third Minnesota goal was all Ryan Flynn, who fought his way around behind the net while maintaining possession of the puck, then drifted out, unmarked, to the left faceoff dot and unleashed a shot through a screen that beat Wolverine goalie Billy Sauer (18 saves) at 1:07 of the third, unassisted.
Michigan answered as Kevin Porter created the second Wolverine goal by cutting to the net and bouncing a shot off Frazee before collecting his own rebound and trying again. That too was saved, but defenseman Steve Kampfer swept in and deposited the loose puck in a half-open net to narrow the Gopher lead to 3-2 at 3:19.
Minnesota reclaimed the two-goal lead at 5:27. Justin Bostrom was ridden off the puck just inside the blue line, but Tony Lucia picked it up and fired a shot that was blocked by the Michigan defense. That left a loose puck in the high slot, and rookie Patrick White fired through a screen for his first collegiate goal.
The Wolverines still refused to go away, as Rust scored his second goal of the game to draw within 4-3. A sterling lead pass from Miller sprang Rust for a breakaway, and his pinpoint shot beat Frazee high at 10:32.
The Wolverines continued to press until Rust was called for holding with just over two minutes to go. Still shorthanded, Michigan pulled Sauer with 40 seconds left, and the Wolverines put on one last rush that ended with Frazee on top of the puck and Michigan’s Chris Summers atop Frazee just outside the goal line.
The win came at a cost for Minnesota, which lost forward Ryan Stoa to an apparent knee injury in the first period.
“He’ll probably be out a while,” said Lucia. “He’s having an MRI on Monday and we’ll know more then.”
Despite four power plays per side, all the scoring came at even strength. Michigan outshot Minnesota 47-22, but the scoreboard didn’t reflect the shot chart.
“We respected the fact that their power play is really dangerous, and at least we got out of the game without giving up a power-play goal,” said Berenson. “We did a lot of things right in the game — it just didn’t show up in the win-loss, and that’s the bottom line, but I liked what we did this weekend.”
“Without Jeff [Frazee]‘s strong play tonight, they could easily have won the game,” said Lucia. “Jeff played the way, quite honestly, I anticipated he could play. He was very good; he was rock-solid. That’s something we can build on.”
“A day in the life of a goalie,” said Frazee of his big game.
Next weekend, Minnesota (2-0-0) visits Colorado College for a Friday-Saturday series to open WCHA play, while Michigan (1-1-0) heads to Northern Michigan for a pair in the CCHA.