MINNEAPOLIS — Nick Bjugstad scored three times, including twice early in the third to break open a tight contest, to catapult No. 1 Minnesota to a 5-0 win over St. Cloud State on a snowy Saturday night in front of 10,044 at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson stopped all 30 shots he faced to earn his sixth shutout of the season, breaking the team record he had shared with former Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber.
“It’s not often a guy gets a hat trick and kind of gets upstaged, but tonight that’s the case, with Kent being able to put his name in the record books,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “[It's a] great accomplishment by Kent to get his sixth shutout.”
Bjugstad’s hat trick is the first of his career for the Minnesota sophomore, whose 21 points (13-8-21) in 14 games already exceeds his 20-point total (8-12-20) in 42 games as a freshman.
“I had a little bit of puck luck tonight; I didn’t have many shots,” said Bjugstad who did, in fact, score on all three of his shots on goal in the game. “Fortunately, my teammates made some good plays and I just put it on net.”
“[Bjugstad] was huge tonight,” said Lucia. “It was nice to see him respond, because he was probably responsible for a couple of those goals we gave up last night.
“That’s what you want to see an elite player do, is come back and put forth an effort like that tonight.”
With the Gophers (11-3-0, 9-2-0 WCHA) leading 2-0 early in the final period and SCSU’s Joey Holka off for interference, Bjugstad one-timed a Nate Schmidt pass from the bottom of the left circle, beating Huskies’ goaltender Ryan Faragher, who was helpless on the play.
It was the type of play missing from Minnesota’s arsenal in last night’s 4-3 SCSU win in St. Cloud, but that issue was addressed earlier in the day.
“[The coaches] took Schmidt in today to watch video, and they noticed that I was pretty open last night,” said Bjugstad. “We practice [one-timers] pretty much every day, so I’m working on it and it’s kind of working out.”
“We talked to ‘Schmitty’ about opening up his left eye on the power play, because [Bjugstad] was open a couple times last night and ‘Schmitty’ ripped it to the net,” said Lucia. “Today he did a good job of finding him, and Nick made a couple of really great shots.”
After Minnesota defenseman Mark Alt put the Gophers up 4-0 just 31 seconds later, Schmidt found Bjugstad in nearly the same spot as he had previously. This time however, Faragher was there but was unable to smother Bjugstad’s five-hole shot.
“The key for us, we felt, was to have a good first period, and we missed that key,” said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. “They came out hard, and we just didn’t have a lot of jump. But I thought in a lot of ways we played way better than last night.”
It was the first time in nine career games in which Faragher, who also made 30 saves, had given up more than four goals. Faragher made the save of the night however, robbing Minnesota’s Taylor Matson with a spectacular left pad save as the Gophers’ captain attempted to finish a short-handed two-on-none break just 31 seconds into the third period.
“He’s a great goaltender,” Bjugstad said of Faragher. “We realized we had to stay away from his glove; he had a hot glove last night. We did our best, and we got five goals, which was fun.”
A night after scoring a goal and two assists in SCSU’s 4-3 victory on Friday night, St. Cloud State junior captain Ben Hanowski was the Huskies’ most active player, registering a staggering 11 of his team’s 30 shots on goal.
Bjugstad put the Gophers up 1-0 with his 11th goal of the season at 8:13 of the first period. The sophomore center received a Zach Budish pass in the Huskies’ zone, split SCSU defensemen Kevin Gravel and Taylor Johnson, and beat Faragher over his left shoulder off the cross bar from the right circle.
Minnesota doubled its lead just 44 seconds later when Haula crossed the St. Cloud State blue line, drew two defenders to him, and flipped a soft saucer pass to Jake Hansen, who was all alone in the left circle and forced a wrist shot between Faragher’s pads.
The Gophers had one more golden scoring opportunity in the first when Matson and Nate Condon created a short-handed two-on-one with Johnson the lone defenseman back for the Huskies, but Johnson thwarted the play before Condon could get a shot off at 13:05 of the period.
Minnesota’s 2-0 lead after one period marked the first time in five games the Huskies have been held scoreless by the Gophers in the first period. Since going 0-6 against Minnesota in 2008-09, St. Cloud State had outscored the Gophers 10-3 in opening periods en route to winning four of the last five meetings between the schools.
That score held up after a mostly uneventful middle period in which the Huskies outshot Minnesota 13-9. Play was interrupted at 17:55 when Nic Dowd’s blast from the high slot knocked Patterson’s mask from his head and onto the ice.
With just 1:25 to go in the second, Minnesota sophomore forward Seth Ambroz had to be helped to the bench after an open-ice hit in the Huskies’ zone by David Eddy. The ensuing scuffle between Eddy and Minnesota defenseman Ben Marshall earned each five-minute majors for grabbing the facemask, with Marshall receiving an additional minor for cross-checking.
“We had a tough time with their speed all weekend,” said Motzko. “To counter that, we have to make plays. We iced the puck a bunch, we dropped a lot of passes, which you can attribute to their pressure. It was difficult for us to handle.”
St. Cloud State (6-6-2, 4-3-1 WCHA) returns home next weekend to host Nebraska-Omaha in a Saturday/Sunday series November 26-27, while Minnesota travels to East Lansing, Mich. to face Michigan State on Friday and Saturday, November 25-26.