MINNEAPOLIS — In a rare Saturday matinee, Minnesota started fast but Michigan Tech closed the gap late in a 2-2 draw. Defenseman Geoff Kinrade netted the tying goal for the Huskies, who overcame a two-goal deficit with a pair of third-period scores to claim the point.
The Golden Gophers (5-0-4, 4-0-3 WCHA) got first-period goals from captain Ryan Stoa and Mike Hoeffel, but the Huskies (2-6-1, 1-5-1 WCHA) rallied behind third-period tallies by Jordan Baker and Kinrade.
“We were definitely on our heels [early],” said MTU head coach Jamie Russell. “But the kids showed a lot of character coming back.”
MTU netminder Rob Nolan looked better and better as the game went along, stopping 24 consecutive shots after giving up the early goals for a game total of 29 saves. For Minnesota, Alex Kangas made 24 saves but gave up two goals on four third-period shots.
“We could never get that third goal to really put the game away, said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Down 2-0, MTU broke through at 9:09 in the third. Leading a rush up the right side, defenseman Drew Dobson had his cross-ice pass partially blocked but the puck rattled around to Baker, whose wrister from the high slot narrowed the lead to 2-1.
Moments later, a scrum erupted after Michigan Tech’s Alex MacLeod hit Kevin Wehrs from behind, with Gopher Sam Lofquist going after MacLeod in the aftermath. MacLeod received a five-minute major for boarding and Lofquist two minutes for roughing.
Once the penalties had been sorted out, MTU stunned Minnesota with the tying goal. Skating four-on-four, Kinrade appeared to surprise Kangas with a pinpoint shot from the edge of the right faceoff circle that landed just inside the far post to tie the game at 2.
“Geoff’s logging a lot of time on the back end” in the absence of injured captain John Schwarz, said Russell. “He’s obviously an offensive defenseman, and he scored a big goal tonight.”
Once Lofquist was released from the box to put Minnesota on the power play, Nolan stepped it up to keep the Gophers off the board, first with a diving save on a shot by Hoeffel on a wide-open net, and then again stonewalling Hoeffel with a glove save on a wraparound attempt.
In the waning moments of overtime, penalties on Hoeffel and Stoa put the Huskies on a brief four-on-three, drawing the ire of the Mariucci crowd. The first was an embellishment call on Hoeffel after he was hooked by MTU’s Derek Kitti, and the second was a whistle for charging the goaltender when Stoa crashed into Nolan after a tip attempt.
The Huskies won the resulting faceoff in the Gopher zone with 1.8 seconds left, but Kangas saved Malcolm Gwilliam’s shot to end the game.
Russell and his staff considered pulling Nolan on the final play, but decided the risk wasn’t worth it.
“We did talk about it, but you’ve got a four-on-three advantage,” he said. “With 1.8 seconds left, if they shoot it down the ice, that’s a heck of a way to lose a hockey game.”
“We lost some critical faceoffs,” said Lucia. “Four-on-four they scored their goal that way, and then in overtime they got a pretty good whack at it.”
The Gophers barely gave the crowd time to sit down before scoring the game’s first goal. With just 51 seconds elapsed, Stoa put away his team-leading eighth goal of the season, a rebound on a scramble in front of Nolan.
Then, just after the midway point of the first period, Minnesota got its second goal courtesy of Hoeffel, who placed his shot from the high slot just under the crossbar to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead.
Freshman Jordan Schroeder started the play with a faceoff win to Hoeffel, his second assist of the game and team-leading 10th of the season. The center from Prior Lake, Minn., leads the nation in freshman scoring with 13 points.
Minnesota sat on that lead for almost 40 minutes, though Michigan Tech nearly got on the board on a power play late in the second period on a shot that pinballed around the crease, off Kangas and high in the air before being cleared.
Michigan Tech outshot Minnesota 13-5 in the middle frame, a near-perfect reversal of Minnesota’s 14-5 first-period advantage that foreshadowed the Huskies’ rally.
“We’re up going into the third period in our own building — it’s almost mandatory that we close it out,” said a downcast Hoeffel, whose Gophers retained sole possession of first place in the WCHA with Saturday evening’s games pending.
Minnesota and Michigan Tech play the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m. CT at Mariucci.