MINNEAPOLIS — Led by Jake Hansen’s four-point night and Kent Patterson’s second straight shutout, the Minnesota Golden Gophers completed a weekend sweep of the visiting Sacred Heart Pioneers in front of 7,918 at Mariucci Arena on Saturday.
Goals by freshman defenseman Ben Marshall and senior Taylor Matson less than 30 seconds apart early in the second period broke open a relatively close contest and spurred the Gophers (2-0-0) to a 6-0 win over the Pioneers (0-2-0) after defeating them 9-0 on Friday. The 15-goal margin in the series is Minnesota’s largest since blanking Colgate 8-0 and 9-0 on consecutive nights on Oct. 26-27, 2002, on the way to its second straight national title.
The series also marked the first time since March 12-13, 1999, that a Gophers goaltender recorded consecutive shutouts against the same opponent when Adam Hauser shut out Alaska-Anchorage 4-0 and 1-0.
“[Patterson's] going to have to be our backbone,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “When you’ve got a [defensive] corps with no seniors and one junior and a lot of inexperience, they’re going to make some mistakes in front of him, but I thought they did a pretty good job.”
Patterson finished with 20 saves while Sacred Heart goaltender Andrew Bodnarchuck faced considerable more rubber in turning away 39 Minnesota shots.
Minnesota led 1-0 in the first period on freshman Sam Warning’s second goal in as many nights, and it appeared that would be the difference at the break. However, Hansen found Erik Haula in the slot, and the sophomore let go of a wrist shot from between the circles over the blocker of Bodnarchuk with 40 seconds left in the period.
Haula scored six goals in his freshman year, and has received a mandate from Lucia to shoot more this season.
“We’ve talked to Erik about shooting more,” said Lucia. “Erik’s kind of a pass-first type of player but that line (with Hansen and Warning) played very well; it was probably our best line this weekend.”
“Coming into this year, my second year, definitely I feel more confident shooting the puck more, and I kind of showed that with the first game having eight shots on goal,” said Haula. “It kind of goes a long way, first game a goal and tonight I had two goals, so it definitely helps.”
The two-goal lead may have been wider had the Pioneers not efficiently killed off a full two minute Minnesota two-man advantage midway through the first. The Pioneers, in fact, maintained a 7-5 edge in shots even after the five-on-three expired. Sacred Heart’s penalty killers killed off eight of 11 Minnesota power plays in the series.
“I liked our penalty kill all weekend actually, and I was extremely proud of the effort we put forth tonight,” said Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo. “It’s not an easy environment to play in, and coming off of last night’s game I think it says a lot about the guys in our room.”
“Early on, we were turning pucks over left and right and playing the game on our backhand, and you’re not very successful when you do that,” said Lucia. “I thought we got moving better, we had better puck possession, better puck control, and so I thought we improved as the game went on.”
As was the case on Friday, the Gophers pulled away in the second period, beginning with Marshall’s first collegiate goal at 3:38 on a feed from Hansen. Just 27 seconds later, sophomore Nate Condon’s pass sprung Matson on a breakaway, and the senior buried a backhand shot behind Bodnarchuk to open a four-goal cushion.
Power-play goals by Zach Budish — his first goal in nearly a year after missing most of last season with a knee injury — and Haula rounded out the scoring for Minnesota. Haula’s goal with a minute to play gave Hansen his fourth assist of the game and team-leading sixth point of the series (1-5–6).
“Hansen played very well,” said Lucia of the senior’s series performance. “Midway through last year, he started to play at a different level, and he’s continued that, at least early on.”
With conference games beginning next weekend, Lucia was asked if Sacred Heart was the right team to prepare them for WCHA play.
“We have a young team, and I think it helps from the standpoint that a lot of guys scored their first goal,” said Lucia. “I thought Sacred Heart played better tonight, I thought tighter, a little more physical.
“We know we’re going to play a better opponent next week, but I think it was good for us to have these games to, hopefully, gain some confidence and know that we can do some things too out on the ice.”
Marottolo acknowledged that scheduling games like these is not necessarily all about wins and losses.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our guys; we don’t get to play in rinks like this in our league,” said Marottolo. “Anytime we get an opportunity to come out and play a WCHA team, we know skill-wise we’re going to be up against it a little bit, but it’s the whole experience we’re after.”
Sacred Heart travels to Clarkson Oct. 14 and 15 for two nonconference games with the Golden Knights. Minnesota opens its conference schedule next weekend on the road against the defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs with a pair of games at Amsoil Arena.