MANKATO, Minn. — Entering Friday’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association match-up between Minnesota and Minnesota State, the usually explosive offense and power-play of the Gophers came in stumbling.
In an 0-for-30 slump with the man-advantage, the Gophers (5-4-0, 1-4-0 WCHA) used two power-play goals in their first two chances and held off a third period Mavericks’ charge en route to a 4-3 victory Friday in front of a sold out crowd of 5,196 at the Alltel Center in Mankato, a new attendance record for Minnesota State (3-3-1, 1-3-1 WCHA).
It was also the first time this season the Gophers scored more than one goal against a WCHA foe.
“We made some pretty good strides tonight,” said Minnesota forward Blake Wheeler, who had assists on Minnesotas first two goals. “Theyre never easy anymore, but it feels great to get one on the board.”
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead on the 1st period’s only goal, a power-play tally by Ben Gordon.
Jay Barriball fed a pass to Wheeler on the right post, who threaded a pass through the crease to Gordon, who did not get good wood on the one-time try. The puck fluttered in the air, fooling Mavericks’ goalie Mike Zacharias.
“It was nice to see the guys score that goal and come to the bench laughing,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Besides breaking the Gophers power-play hex, it was also the first goal allowed by Zacharias since a Friday night game two weeks ago at Alaska-Anchorage, a span of 179:33.
The Gophers extended their lead in the early stages of the second, going up 2-0 when Wheeler maintained control of the puck on the left side of the net before sliding a pass to Tony Lucia in the slot. The sophomore missed the puck on his first shot but pounded the second past Zacharias at 2:01.
Just over a minute later, David Fischer blasted a slap shot that Zacharias stopped, but the rebound came into the slot for Patrick White, who rolled it into the net at 3:13.
“I thought we played well down low tonight,” Lucia said. “We got down there in the blue-paint and did the things we worked on in practice.”
Mavericks’ head coach Troy Jutting was disappointed with how his team played in front of its own net.
“We have to do a better job of clearing out in front,” Jutting said. “We got beat. They just wanted it more than we did.”
The Mavericks finally got on the board on a goal by Jon Kalinski at 8:21 of the second, but Minnesota regained a three-goal advantage on another power-play goal, this one by Evan Kaufmann at 15:42.
“Coach wanted us to keep it simple,” Kaufmann said. “Our main point was to make one or two passes and get it to the net. The shot flipped up in the air and everyone lost track of it. It came down on my tape and lucky for me, the goalie lost track of it.”
MSU’s first goal in the third came on a power-play tally by Berge at 4:33. Defenseman Kurt Davis took a shot from the point that was gathered in Kael Mouillierat. Mouillierat was tangled up, and his weak shot went wide of Frazee but landed on the stick of Berge, who fired the puck into a wide-open net.
The buzz present before face-off had subsided, but returned to Alltel Center at 7:46 when freshman Andy Sackrison fluttered a change-up wrister past Frazee from the slot to make it 4-3. The goal came with four skaters aside and was Sackrisons first collegiate tally.
“I thought the third period was a lot more indicative of how we have been playing,” Jutting said. “We gave ourselves a chance to get back in the hockey game.
“You have some ups and downs with a young team. I like our enthusiasm and I like our intensity level. But as with any young team, we played a good game at times, and I think we also stood there and watched.”
Minnesota State sustained pressure for the remainder of the game but could not pull any closer. The Gophers outshot the Mavericks 24-22 on the night, with MSU owning a 10-4 edge in the final period.
“I thought we did a great job of keeping the puck to the outside,” Lucia said of the final minutes. “Blake did a good job of winning a face-off with about 30 seconds left. Those are the little things its great to see them do.”
Minnesota and Minnesota State will play game two of the home-and-home series at 7:07 p.m. Saturday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.