MINNEAPOLIS — In a season whose first few weeks have been littered with penalties, Friday’s matchup at Mariucci Arena was a welcome reminder of the game that college hockey can be.
Fifth-ranked New Hampshire and No. 4 Minnesota weren’t quite picture-perfect, but they were never dull, and the result was a fitting 2-2 tie powered by sterling performances from UNH’s Brian Foster and Minnesota’s Alex Kangas in net. Afterward, neither coach could find fault with his team’s effort.
“Both teams played a heck of a hockey game,” said New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile. “You’re on the road — we’ll take the point.”
“I thought it was a great game,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “Entertaining, great goaltending, team speed, scoring chances. You’re not going to have a better game than that this early in the season.”
Foster stopped 39 Minnesota shots, many of the grade-A variety, in a standout performance, while Kangas nearly matched him with 35 saves.
“Both goalies played well,” said Umile. “You’ve got to have a solid goaltender and both teams do.”
If that fact weren’t already clear, it became so during the 65 minutes of play. With UNH leading 2-1 heading into the third period, New Hampshire’s James vanRiemsdyk made a nifty move around a defender for a stuff attempt that Kangas blocked to keep the Wildcat lead at one.
After a tripping call against UNH during a Minnesota scoring chance, Jay Barriball tied it up. The junior winger barely beat Foster with a shot from the high slot after captain Ryan Stoa shoveled the puck out high from the goal line. The goal, Barriball’s fourth, knotted the score at 8:01, while the assist was Stoa’s second of the game.
Stoa has dented the scoresheet in each of Minnesota’s seven games, and Barriball has scored in each of the Gophers’ last six.
“We had so many chances throughout the game,” said Barriball. “We needed a spark in the third period, and I was lucky enough to get it.”
“If you give them any kind of space, they can create and make plays,” observed Umile of Minnesota’s offense.
There was no further scoring in the third period. Stoa nearly won it for Minnesota in overtime, but Foster made the stop with the last six inches of his foot to preserve the tie.
“He got a solid workout,” said Umile of Foster, adding, “he likes to work.”
The two squads provided plenty of entertainment in the first period with 29 shots on goal, multiple quality scoring chances and just one penalty — a pleasant sight for fans grown tired of endless five-on-fours, four-on-fours and four-on-threes. Minnesota controlled the early play, but New Hampshire took advantage of a Gopher miscue late in the first period.
vanRiemsdyk, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, started the play with a steal in Minnesota’s defensive zone and drove on net for a stuff attempt, which Kangas saved but could not control. Phil DeSimone was there to clean up the loose puck at 16:57 for his third goal of the season.
“He’s real skilled one-on-one,” said Umile in reference to vanRiemsdyk. “He can handle the puck.”
“He showed why he was picked second in the [NHL] draft,” agreed Lucia.
The Gophers had opportunities early as well, hitting two pipes. And with the Wildcats still holding the lead in the second, Minnesota looked snakebitten as point-blank chances for Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Flynn went awry.
New Hampshire then suffered some ill fortune of its own. Skating below the goal line, Schroeder attempted a centering pass; instead, the puck went off UNH co-captain Joe Charlebois’ skate and into the net to tie the game at 1. The goal, at 13:41 of the second period, was the rookie center’s third of the season.
But with less than two minutes left in the second period, an old-fashioned effort play gave the Wildcats the lead back. Jerry Pollastrone dug the puck out along the boards, and the senior winger fed Peter LeBlanc streaking up the left side for a two-on-one.
LeBlanc opted to keep the puck and unleashed a slapshot from the left circle that beat Kangas blocker-side to make it 2-1 after 40 minutes, setting up Barriball’s tying third-period goal.
The teams rematch Saturday night at Mariucci in the series finale at 6 p.m. Central time. Minnesota (4-0-3) will be looking to stay undefeated, while New Hampshire (4-1-3) looks for its first win against the Gophers in their last four meetings.