MINNEAPOLIS — Having spent the better part of three weeks beating up only on each other, Sunday night’s exhibition game against the University of British Columbia could not have come at a better time for Minnesota.
“It got to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s get practice going here and let’s get some games going,’” said senior Jake Hansen. “Even though Sunday is not the ideal situation to play a game, it just felt good to get in that routine again.”
Hansen’s goal just 85 seconds into the game turned out to be the only offense Minnesota needed in its 3-0 win over the Thunderbirds at in front of 6,535 fans at Mariucci Arena.
Hansen and freshman Sam Warning each had two assists, while linemate Erik Haula scored the game’s second goal.
Hansen said it felt “pretty good” to be reunited with Haula, with whom Hansen skated much of the second half of last season.
“We know where we’re kind of going and Warning is a nice addition,” said Hansen. “Last week, we skated together pretty much every day and we kind of started clicking a little bit there.”
Gophers coach Don Lucia liked what he saw from the trio as well.
“They had some chemistry tonight and I thought Sam did a nice job,” said Lucia. “He can make some plays with the puck, so it was a good outing for our guys.”
In the game’s second minute, Warning carried the puck into the right circle, spun, and found Hansen all alone between the tops of the circles. Hansen quickly fired a low wrist shot just inside the left post for an early Minnesota lead.
But that was it for the offense until early in the third when Hansen’s pass from the right boards caught Haula in stride as he entered the UBC zone. A couple of steps later, Haula’s shot from the left circle ricocheted off the cross bar and into the net at 1:41.
Despite peppering UBC goalie Steven Stanford with 43 shots, Minnesota, as was the case in 2010-11, had difficulty finishing its chances. But don’t tell the Gophers this game was a continuation of that trend.
“It’s the first game of the year and you kind of expect that not everyone’s going to be clicking on all cylinders,” said Hansen. “It’s just nice to see that we put out a good effort.”
“The guys competed hard, we made some nice plays, [and] their goaltender made some big-time saves tonight,” said Lucia. “We haven’t had much work on special teams, but I thought 5-on-5 we did a lot of good things.”
Defensively, the Gophers did an outstanding job of limiting UBC to 10 shots on goal for the game, including holding the Thunderbirds without a shot over the entire first period. The stingy defense caused Lucia to alter his plan to play starting goaltender Kent Patterson just one period. Patterson would go on to make three saves in the second period before Michael Shibrowski replaced him near the halfway mark and made seven saves to get credit for the win.
Minnesota’s young defensemen – junior Seth Helgeson is the only upperclassman – were also consistently engaged offensively with freshman Ben Marshall and sophomore Mark Alt particularly assertive.
“We want them part of the offense,” said Lucia. “We don’t have a senior defenseman and we only have one junior, so there’s a lot of inexperience back there, but I think the guys did a good job.”
Lucia didn’t dress a few of his veterans against UBC, allowing him to get all of his freshmen some game action. In addition to Warning, Lucia received solid efforts from Marshall (one assist), forward Kyle Rau, and defenseman Blake Thompson (empty-net goal).
“Now we’ll have some difficult decisions to make,” said Lucia. “I think we have the makings of a deep group, but who’s going to emerge offensively as the year goes on?”