MINNEAPOLIS — One night after a thriller of a draw against fifth-ranked New Hampshire, the No. 4 Minnesota Golden Gophers decided that they had seen enough ties for now.
Minnesota had already played three no-decisions this season, as had UNH. And coming into the third period Saturday, another one appeared to be in the cards. But the Gophers scored four third-period goals to turn a nailbiter into a rout, winning 6-2 in the series finale at Mariucci Arena.
Gopher captain Ryan Stoa opened the floodgates with a shorthander at 4:42 of the third period to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead, and the hosts never looked back. On the play, Stoa scooped up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone and let go a wrister that landed in the top corner of the net. The goal was Stoa’s seventh, giving him a point in every Minnesota game this season.
“The third goal was obviously the catalyst,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “We’ve had good, strong third periods all year long, and I just tried to reinforce that [during the second intermission].”
“We lost our composure,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “They took it to another level, and we took it the other way.”
Gopher winger Ryan Flynn added an insurance goal at 13:53 on another power play, one-timing Mike Carman’s cross-ice pass into the left side of the UNH net. With the Gophers on their way, freshman Taylor Matson added another and Flynn scored his second goal of the game with four minutes left to make it academic.
“They beat us the last 10 minutes,” was Umile’s simple summary.
Unlike Friday’s relatively whistle-free game, penalties were a factor, and special teams were unsurprisingly critical.
Along with the Stoa shorthander, Minnesota (5-0-3) converted three of seven power plays, including its first two goals. UNH (4-2-3) got a rally started in the waning moments of the first period with a power-play goal of its own, but that was the Wildcats’ only tally on five man-advantages.
“Obviously, when we get the power play going it’s good for us,” said Minnesota’s Mike Hoeffel, who scored the second Gopher goal. “But the whole group contributed tonight.”
That included netminder Alex Kangas, who was again solid in stopping 26 of 28 UNH shots. Wildcat goalie Brian Foster made 28 saves on 34 Minnesota shots on net.
The Gophers, who suffered on offense last season, scored six goals for the second time in three games after going over 50 games without doing so.
“To close out that game the way we did, scoring four goals in the third period — especially against a team like New Hampshire — sets up well for next weekend,” said Hoeffel.
Early on, the Gophers built a two-goal lead before the Wildcats battled back to tie it up after two periods of play.
In the first period, blueliner Cade Fairchild converted a power play to give the Gophers their first lead of the weekend. Skating across the blue line, the sophomore zipped a high floater that got past Foster’s glove at 5:43.
With Minnesota back on the power play late in the first, the Gophers again took advantage. Hoeffel got his second goal of the year, blistering a shot from the left faceoff circle just under the crossbar at 14:51 to make it 2-0 Gophers.
But with seconds left in the first period, the Wildcats got one back. After a hold put UNH up a man, UNH’s Danny Dries dug the puck out of the corner and fed sophomore Mike Sislo, who slipped a backhander around Kangas at 19:57 to narrow the lead to one.
The second period was less eventful, though tempers flared when New Hampshire’s Jerry Pollastrone flattened Justin Bostrom alongside the UNH net during a scramble. Bostrom took exception and both players were rung up for some quality time in the box along with Minnesota’s Brian Schack.
Once matters were sorted out, the Wildcats went back to work, led by James vanRiemsdyk. The sophomore winger took a lead pass from Phil DeSimone near the blue line, streaking past two defenders and cutting in front of Kangas before depositing the puck in the net.
The goal, vanRiemsdyk’s team-leading fifth, tied the score with less than two minutes left in the second, sending the game to the decisive third period.
“It was a great weekend of hockey, and the fans enjoyed it,” said Lucia. “It was a good team win for us.”
Next week, Minnesota receives a visit from Michigan Tech for a Saturday-Sunday WCHA series, while New Hampshire gets back to Hockey East play against Massachusetts-Lowell Friday and Boston College Saturday.