MINNEAPOLIS — Despite its dramatic conclusion, No. 12 Union’s 3-2 overtime victory over No. 19 Minnesota at Mariucci Arena on New Year’s Eve was far from a thing of beauty. Holiday hangover combined with a case of jet lag and a lethargic audience resulted in a sluggish opening game for both teams in the 20th annual Mariucci Classic.
Union freshman Josh Jooris’ fifth and sixth goals of the season — including the OT winner just 42 seconds into the extra session — and sophomore goaltender Keith Kinkaid’s 23 saves were just enough for the Dutchmen (11-5-3) to eke out a big road win in front of an announced partisan crowd of 8,941.
“It feels good because I think five or six years ago we came in here and got our doors blown off,” Union coach Nate Leaman said, referring to an 8-0 Minnesota win in the 2005 Mariucci Classic. “Hopefully this is a good benchmark for our program to show that we’ve made some progress.”
“[Union] seemed to have a little bit more in their step,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “The first game back can always be an adventure at times. We had a good week of practice but we came out a little bit sluggish and they’re a good team.”
After a brief scramble in front of the Minnesota net, Jooris found himself between the circles facing away from Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson with the puck on his stick. Jooris quickly pivoted and fired the puck past Patterson before being immediately mobbed by his teammates.
“I had no clue where I was going with it,” admitted Jooris, who also said he wasn’t sure how the puck eventually went in. “I just tried to get it on net and fortunately I saw it just pop over the goalie.”
“I was just psyched when it went in,” Jooris said with a huge grin.
“When you get to overtime it’s never a bad idea to shoot the puck and it went off Cade’s [Gopher defenseman Fairchild] stick and bounced over Kent,” Lucia said. “It’s disappointing, there’s no question. It’s a hard way to lose any time you lose in overtime.”
The Gophers (9-8-2) struggled to shake off the holiday rust, and the absences of World Junior Championship competitors Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula were glaring. The Dutchmen, on the other hand, showed all the signs of being a travel-weary band.
But who could blame them?
Originally scheduled to depart Albany International Airport on Thursday, flight cancellations resulting from the recent blizzard in the northeast forced Union to travel by bus to Newark, N.J., and split up, taking two flights out of Newark International Airport.
The Dutchmen arrived in the Twin Cities near midnight, and the late arrival robbed them of an opportunity to skate at Mariucci Arena to acclimate themselves to the Olympic-sized surface.
Minnesota held a 1-0 lead after one period on Jacob Cepis’ seventh goal of the season courtesy of a forced turnover in the Union zone by Minnesota senior captain Jay Barriball. The 1-0 deficit was only the fifth of the season in 19 games for the Dutchmen, who carried the play in the first 20 minutes despite uncharacteristically falling behind.
Leaman said after the game that good starts, especially on the road, have been a point of emphasis recently for his team and he was pleased with how his team played early on.
“I thought we had some good scoring chances although they had the first goal, and that just built a little confidence for us.”
Indeed it did, as the nation’s top-ranked power play unit — 34.1 percent success rate coming into the game — drew Union even halfway through the second. Senior John Simpson’s shot from above the right circle clipped the stick of Minnesota freshman defenseman Mark Alt and deflected over Patterson’s left shoulder.
A critical 27-second sequence followed when Union’s Nolan Julseth-White went off for tripping at 16:29 of the second period. It took Minnesota senior Mike Hoeffel just 14 seconds to score his eighth goal of the season and put the Gophers back on top 2-1 with a power-play goal of his own.
Not to be outdone, the Dutchmen burned a mere 13 seconds themselves in rallying to tie on Jooris’ first goal of the game.
“If you’re going to win on the road you’ve got to be mentally tough and the shift after a goal has got to be your great shifts,” Leaman said. “The guys came back with a great shift and got a puck to the net and fortunately we found a bounce.”
Lucia called the turn of events “disappointing” and “a big play in the game,” especially after his team had executed so well in its limited time with the man advantage.
“It’s frustrating but we don’t have much time to make some changes and get ready to play Ferris State [Saturday],” Lucia said.
Union will play in the championship game against Bemidji State at 4 p.m. Saturday, followed by Minnesota’s game against Ferris State.