MINNEAPOLIS — After a Jekyll and Hyde opening period, the Minnesota Golden Gophers stormed back with four goals in each of the final two periods on Friday night and cruised to a 9-0 season-opening win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Nick Bjugstad and Seth Ambroz each scored twice for Minnesota (1-0-0) as the Gophers won by a nine-goal margin for the first time since beating Alaska-Anchorage 9-0 at Mariucci Arena on Nov. 11, 2005. In all, eight Minnesota players finished with two points including freshmen Kyle Rau (1 goal, 1 assist) and Blake Thompson (two assists).
“I definitely think they’ll contribute all season,” said Bjugstad when asked about the impact Minnesota’s freshmen might have this season. “A guy like Kyle Rau, he just came from high school hockey, but I think he’s that smart that he can jump right in here and make an impact.”
Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson recorded his first career shutout with 20 saves while Sacred Heart’s Steven Legatto took the loss for the Pioneers (0-1-0) despite turning aside 38 Gophers shots.
“Kent was pretty good in net tonight; he made the saves he had to make when we did have our chances,” said Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo.
The Gophers led 1-0 after one period and wasted little time grabbing that advantage when Rau scored just 56 seconds into the game. Rau, the only one of Minnesota’s seven freshmen to come straight out of high school, swung around from behind the Sacred Heart net to Legatto’s left and, with a pair of quick whacks, buried his first career goal.
“No big surprise that Kyle scores the first goal of the season and where he did it right at the blue paint,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “Same thing with Seth Ambroz, he’s a big, strong body and he’s a net-front presence, he knows where to go to score goals.”
Fueled by the momentum of Rau’s goal, Minnesota swarmed Legatto for half a period while surging to 15-1 advantage in shots on goal. But the Pioneers closed out the period on an 8-1 run–including three close-range attempts by Matt Gingera–courtesy of three straight Minnesota penalties in the final 8:32 of the period.
“The first 10 or 12 minutes we were on our heels a little bit,” said Marottolo. “But we weathered the storm and I was proud of the way our guys bounced back and I thought we had some great opportunities to score.”
But Hansen’s rising slap shot from the right circle over Legatto’s outstretched blocker at 5:26 of the second period ignited a four-goal second period burst by the Gophers featuring tallies by Bjugstad, Erik Haula, and freshman Sam Warning.
“They had what I think was about a three minute stretch where the really caught lightning in bottle there and got three goals,” said Marottolo. “Against a fast team like that we got a little bit out of our structure in the neutral zone and they really took advantage of that.”
But Minnesota was far from finished as Bjugstad’s wrap-around goal less than a minute into the final period fanned the flames that led to Ambroz’s two goals in the final four minutes.
“I thought the third period was maybe our best period,” said Lucia. “We kept coming, we kept making plays, and some guys got rewarded.
“We did a lot of good things tonight and we had some erratic play at times which didn’t surprise me,” said Lucia. “Kent had to make some saves at critical points in the game especially early in the second period and then I thought once we got that second goal we relaxed a little bit and took off from there.”