MINNEAPOLIS — If first impressions truly count for something, Minnesota made a lasting one on Vermont on Friday in the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Nick Bjugstad scored twice for the Gophers and Kent Patterson made 17 saves for his third shutout in five games as No. 8 Minnesota rolled over the Catamounts, 6-0, at Mariucci Arena.
Zach Budish chipped in a goal and two assists against Vermont (0-1-0), while Kyle Rau (goal, assist), Jake Hansen (two assists) and Erik Haula (two assists) each had two points for the undefeated Gophers (5-0-0), who are averaging over six goals per game.
“They’re an excellent team,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I think they’ve got a lot of mojo going right now. They’re a confident bunch.”
The Gophers chased Vermont goaltender Rob Madore in the second period of the senior’s 100th game after 14 saves and five goals. Backup Alex Vazzano entered in relief and stopped 18 of 19 Minnesota shots.
“He didn’t play well,” said Sneddon of Madore. “A couple of goals I thought were kind of soft, but we certainly left Rob out to dry on the first three I thought.”
Sneddon said Madore’s play was just one of the problems plaguing the Catamounts on tonight.
“Quite frankly, I think a lot of our guys kind of lost the game before we hit the ice,” said Sneddon. “I don’t know that we were afraid or fearful of making mistakes or what not, but there wasn’t much to our game tonight from the net out. Our go-to players didn’t show up.”
Just as he did two weeks ago in his collegiate debut against Sacred Heart, Rau wasted little time giving Minnesota a lead it would never relinquish just 44 seconds into the game. Hansen carried the puck out of the left corner and threaded a pass out front to Rau. who out-waited Madore before firing the puck past the sprawled Vermont goaltender.
A little under three minutes later, Sam Warning completed a picture-perfect, tic-tac-toe passing play with Hansen and Haula to put the Gophers up 2-0.
After giving up 100 shots to UMD last weekend, Minnesota’s defense stiffened significantly against Vermont, giving up just 17 shots.
“I think our gaps were better tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “I think they used each other better. Obviously, you have a bit more time in a bigger rink and that helps.
“I thought defensively we did a good job of getting into the (passing) lanes and not giving outnumbered rushes and Kent cleaned up anything that he saw, so it was a good team win for us.”
Vermont actually settled down as the first period went on, even harnessing a territorial advantage for a time, but Bjugstad’s first goal of the game at 15:26, using Rau as a decoy before muscling a wrist shot through Madore’s legs, restored Minnesota’s stronghold on the game and the Gophers led 3-0 after one.
Second-period goals by Taylor Matson. Bjugstad, and Budish doubled Minnesota’s lead heading into the third period. Bjugstad’s second of the game at 9:52 of the second gave the Gophers at least five goals in five straight games to start the season. That hasn’t happened since Minnesota began the 2001-02 campaign scoring five or more in eight straight en route to an NCAA title.
Patterson wasn’t tested much as the Catamounts managed just six shots over the final two periods. Despite the lack of work, though, Patterson said he has his own method for maintaining focus.
“I always try and talk to myself, as weird as it sounds,” said Patterson. “I just make sure I’m mentally involved. Sometimes I take mental breaks, but you’ve got to be able to have that ability to pull yourself back in the game when the rush is coming down on you.”
By shutting out the Gophers in the third period, Vermont did manage to halt Minnesota’s consecutive period scoring streak at 15, including last Friday’s overtime in Duluth.
When asked what needs to change for the Catamounts to turn things around in Sunday’s rematch, Sneddon simply said, “Everything.”
“In all honesty, it’s not an X’s and O’s thing,” said Sneddon. “It’s we got beat to every loose puck, we got beat on one-on-one battles, our power-play guys were certainly not focused and thinking clearly, and we certainly need better effort out of the net. I’m looking forward to how our team responds and fortunately, we get another crack at them on Sunday.”
The series finale was scheduled for Sunday due to Minnesota’s homecoming festivities this weekend.