MINNEAPOLIS — For Minnesota, Saturday’s matchup with Alaska-Anchorage at Mariucci Arena was a welcome change from recent results. After having been held to two goals or fewer in four of their last five games, the Golden Gophers tallied a quartet, pulling away from the Seawolves for a 4-2 win.
Jordan Schroeder and Jay Barriball each had a goal and an assist for the Gophers, who also got tallies from defensemen Cade Fairchild and David Fischer. The victory ended a five-game winless streak for Minnesota (13-9-6, 10-8-4 WCHA), which outshot UAA (10-13-5, 7-12-5 WCHA) by a 31-17 margin.
However, neither the Gopher players nor head coach Don Lucia felt the quality of Minnesota’s play differed much from previous games — only the outcome.
“I can’t say that it was the best game we played in the last four or five,” said Lucia. “But we won this one.”
“The difference was, today we were able to score some goals,” said Fairchild. “There are a lot of relieved guys in the locker room.”
Barriball’s goal, the eventual game winner, came during a five-minute power play after a hit from behind by UAA’s Mat Robinson on Gopher forward Nico Sacchetti late in the second period. That penalty was Seawolf head coach Dave Shyiak’s major point of concern afterward.
The UAA bench boss disagreed not with the call but with the rule, suggesting that more discretion should be made available to officials on plays of that type.
“It was a clear shoulder-to-shoulder hit,” said Shyiak. “There is no grey area.”
The Seawolves again played without their leading goalscorer, sophomore Tommy Grant, who missed his third game out of UAA’s last four with a shoulder injury. In his absence, Paul Crowder again provided an offensive spark, scoring both of Alaska-Anchorage’s goals to give him a team-leading total of 12.
Curiously, both teams scored on their first shots on goal of the game. Minnesota opened the scoring as Fairchild tallied his seventh goal of the season, taking a pass from Barriball and firing a slapshot through a screen that landed inside the right post at 2:13.
The Seawolves responded, and fast. Barely a minute after Fairchild’s goal, Crowder converted on a UAA power play. Off a pass from Trevor Hunt, Crowder let go a shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas (15 saves) to the near side at 3:35.
Early in the second period, another blueliner tallied to give the Gophers the lead back as Minnesota got the benefit of a bounce.
UAA goaltender Bryce Christianson (27 saves) was bumped as he went behind his net to play the puck, and as he got back in the crease Fischer surprised him with a long slapshot that skipped past the netminder at 2:56.
“[Christianson] tried to rim it and it kind of bounced to the defenseman,” Shyiak said. “I’m not even sure he saw [the shot].”
“It was a big goal because it was 1-1,” said Lucia. “It seems like the last month the other team was scoring those kinds of goals.”
Kevin Wehrs had a breakaway for Minnesota midway through the second period, taking a head-man pass on his way out of the penalty box for a one-on-one with Christianson, but the sophomore lost the puck on his way in and didn’t get a shot on net.
With five minutes left in the middle frame, the Gophers had a chance to seize the momentum when Robinson picked up the five-minute major and game misconduct. The Seawolves killed four and a half minutes of the power play, but with 28 seconds left in the period Minnesota broke through.
Schroeder was once again the playmaker, finding Barriball with a pass through the top of the crease that the junior winger put away for his ninth goal of the season and a 3-1 Minnesota lead.
But Crowder wouldn’t let Minnesota get comfortable with the first two-goal advantage of the weekend for either team.
Off a turnover in the Minnesota zone, Crowder circled in front and beat Kangas with a pinpoint wrister through a screen. The goal was the junior’s second of the game and team-leading 12th of the season, narrowing the score to 3-2 at 3:30.
Schroeder gave the Gophers their cushion back at 7:26. Mike Hoeffel kept a UAA clearing attempt in the zone and threw the puck toward the net. The puck was directed away from the goalmouth, but a charging Schroeder picked up the loose puck and fired it past Christianson for his 12th goal of the season and a 4-2 Minnesota lead.
Christianson left the UAA net in the final minute, but the Seawolves were whistled for too many men on the ice after an apparent mixup on who the sixth skater should be. With six seconds left, unpleasantries developed in front of the UAA net, resulting in assorted roughing penalties but no significant consequences.
“I’m happy for our guys,” said Lucia. “We got better as the game went along.”
Next weekend, both teams continue down the WCHA homestretch with Friday-Saturday series. Minnesota, which is in sixth place in the conference standings, heads to Colorado College for a pair, while ninth-place Alaska-Anchorage hosts North Dakota.