MINNEAPOLIS — For the second straight night, the second period determined the outcome between Minnesota and Minnesota State. Saturday at Mariucci Arena, it was a four-goal Minnesota surge that turned a one-goal deficit into a comfortable lead as the Gophers beat the Mavericks 5-3 to complete a home-and-home sweep.
“The second period was probably the best period of hockey we’ve played all year,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “It looked like the way Gopher hockey is supposed to be played, spreading the rink, sharing the puck, making creative plays, protecting [the puck]. It was fun to watch.”
“I thought for 40 minutes of the game, we beat them, but for 20 minutes they really whipped us, and that was the difference,” said Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting.
Sophomore Kyle Okposo catalyzed the Gophers’ win with a pair of goals two minutes apart to start the second-period explosion, giving Minnesota (6-4-0, 2-4-0 WCHA) a lead it would not relinquish despite a solid third period by Minnesota State (3-4-1, 1-4-1 WCHA), which had several quality chances early in the frame.
“It was fun out there tonight again,” said Okposo, who broke out after scoring just one goal in Minnesota’s first nine games. “I tried to visualize myself on the pond, just playing with my buddies.”
With the Mavericks’ R.J. Linder off for hooking early in the second, the Gophers tied it up on an Okposo goal. Running a give-and-get play with rookie blueliner Cade Fairchild, Okposo one-timed the return pass past Mavericks netminder Dan Tormey to knot the score at 2.
Okposo gave Minnesota the lead for good two minutes later, with Jay Barriball playing the role of setup man. Circling from behind the net with the puck, Barriball spun and hit Okposo cruising unmarked through the slot, and Okposo neatly tipped the puck home to make it 3-2 Gophers at 5:14.
“He’s one of the best players in college hockey,” said Jutting of Okposo. “It’s his 10th game of the season and he’s got one goal. That’s not going to last long.”
Tony Lucia added the fourth Minnesota goal at 13:20, taking a pass from Evan Kaufmann and blasting a shot home from the right faceoff dot. Tormey wanted goaltender interference called against Minnesota’s Ryan Flynn, but the goal stood on video review.
Fairchild made it 5-2 shortly thereafter, taking Gordon’s diagonal pass low in the left circle and beating a sliding Tormey high to the blocker side, putting the Gophers firmly in control.
“We came into the locker room after the first and decided we were going to come out firing, and that’s what we did,” said Okposo.
“Tonight we were horrible in the second period, and they were very good,” Jutting said.
The Mavericks’ Mick Berge narrowed the lead to 5-3 five minutes into the third, picking off a pass and banging the puck just inside the post for his second goal of the game and team-leading sixth of the season, but Minnesota State got no closer.
“Number one, we won the game, two, we scored on the power play, and Kyle Okposo scored. We needed those three things to happen,” said Lucia.
The contest started rockily, as the teams exchanged major penalties early. Minnesota’s Justin Bostrom was sent off just 28 seconds in for hitting from behind, earning the Mavericks a five-minute power play and Bostrom the obligatory game misconduct.
Minnesota State, however, could do nothing with its power play, which was cut short when Jerad Stewart was assessed a major and a game disqualification for kneeing, and after four and a half minutes the Gophers took advantage. Barriball’s pass through the crease found Ben Gordon, who slipped it past a diving Tormey (28 saves) at 9:13 to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
After a hook by the Mavericks’ Kurt Davis, Minnesota State evened it up on Jon Kalinski’s unassisted shorthander at 12:11. Coming up the right side, Kalinski’s pass attempt was deflected by Gordon right back onto his stick, and he flung the puck past Gopher netminder Alex Kangas (21 saves) to the glove side.
The contest took a frightening turn late in the first period when Minnesota’s Mike Howe, who had earlier been on the receiving end of Stewart’s knee, was taken off on a stretcher after getting his skates tangled, falling backwards and hitting his head against the boards.
Howe remained on the ice for several minutes while medical staff and the stretcher were summoned, but eventually gave a welcome thumbs-up to the crowd as he left. Initial reports indicated no serious injury, but his status for next weekend was unknown.
Once play resumed, Minnesota State went on the power play courtesy of an R.J. Anderson hook, and Berge gave the Mavericks a 2-1 lead on another play involving a bounce off a Minnesota stick — and this time, a skate to boot.
In the slot, Berge was poke-checked by Stu Bickel, and once again the puck returned to sender, giving Berge space to spin and fire the puck in off Fairchild’s skate at 16:39, sending the teams to the locker rooms with Minnesota State leading.
Next week, both teams continue with WCHA play. Minnesota hosts Alaska-Anchorage for a pair Friday and Saturday, while Minnesota State visits Denver for two.