MINNEAPOLIS — Riding the netminding prowess of Peter Mannino and a resurgent power play, Denver cruised to a 5-1 win over homestanding Minnesota at Mariucci Arena Friday.
Despite being outshot 37-28, the opportunistic Pioneers got 36 saves from their star goaltender and three power-play goals after coming into the evening zero for tneir last 31 tries with the extra skater, dating back to DU’s season opener against Maine.
“We’re just staying with it here,” said Tyler Ruegsegger, who scored two of Denver’s three power-play markers. “We try not to get frustrated — just stay focused, keep working hard and practice at [the power play], and when you do that it starts to pay off.”
The win was Mannino’s first over Minnesota, and while the netminder acknowledged being aware of that fact, he downplayed its importance.
“Any time you play against a big-time team like this and get a victory, it feels good,” he said. “You’ve got to put it behind you and hope for another one.”
Naturally, Mannino’s teammates were less frugal in their praise.
“Peter played a great game, no question about that, because they’re a great team,” said Ruegsegger. “They had lots of scoring chances, and they have a ton of skilled players. You need your goalie to play like that to have a chance to win.”
Minnesota, meanwhile, started strong but lost ground as the game went along despite the advantage in shots.
“That’s the mental part of it,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “It’s that mental toughness, mental strength that no matter what’s going on you’ve got to continue to play the same way throughout the game, and tonight I’m not sure that we played with that.”
With the win, Denver moved to 5-2-0 overall and 2-1-0 in the WCHA, while the loss dropped the Gophers to 4-3-0 and 0-3-0 in WCHA play for the first time since 1993-94. Minnesota has never begun a WCHA campaign 0-4-0 in the league’s half-century of existence.
Early on, the Gophers dominated possession and scoring opportunities, but — in a theme that was repeated all game — could not convert.
The Gophers stepped up the pressure midway through the first but Mannino was equal to the task, and the Pioneers rewarded their goaltender’s effort by taking the lead. Racing up the boards for a puck in the neutral zone, sophomore winger Rhett Rakhshani slanted wide before firing five-hole on Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee (23 saves) at 16:57 to give Denver a 1-0 lead.
Rakhshani’s tally was the first opening-period goal allowed by Minnesota in four games, and left the Gophers in a hole despite a 12-6 advantage in shots on net.
Early in the second period, Denver extended its lead after a tripping call against Minnesota’s Cade Fairchild. On the resulting power play, Ruegsegger lined up a shot from the top of the left circle and fired through the legs of both defenseman R.J. Anderson and Frazee to make it 2-0 at 2:23.
Frazee, who gave up five goals on 28 Denver shots, certainly didn’t play his best game, but Lucia wasn’t about to point fingers.
“When the goalie’s a little bit off on a given night, the rest of the team has to step up and respond,” Lucia said.
The Gophers missed an opportunity to narrow the DU advantage when defenseman Kevin Wehrs missed an empty net with Mannino down, and instead Denver made it 3-0 on Ruegsegger’s second goal of the game and fourth of the season, again on the power play. This one was a pinpoint shot at 16:02 that landed just inside the left post and under the crossbar.
Late in the frame, the Pioneers earned a brief five-on-three when a Kyle Okposo hook was followed by a bench minor against Minnesota for too many men. Still on the power play 43 seconds into the third, Brock Trotter salted the game away with his fourth goal of the season, putting away the short rebound of Rakhshani’s shot.
Six minutes later Denver added a fifth goal on a tic-tac-toe passing sequence that ended with Tyler Bozak’s putaway into a half-empty net. Minnesota’s Ryan Flynn finally ended Mannino’s shutout bid with his second goal of the season at 11:10 to account for the final score of 5-1.
A bit of chippiness was evident — much of it thanks to skaters getting tangled up with goaltenders — and that culminated in two mini-rumbles late in the third period for which 38 minutes in penalties were handed out. Neither squad, though, saw anything other than a good, hard-fought conference matchup.
“That’s going to happen. There are scuffles around the net, pucks bouncing around,” said Mannino. “They’re going to come hard; they’re going to try and bang in any rebounds they can. [I] just try to find the puck and let my ‘D’ take over.”
Minnesota and Denver rematch Sunday afternoon in a rare 2 p.m. contest.