MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — It has been three years since the Minnesota Golden Gophers have won their own holiday tournament, but they earned another crack at it on Friday night.
Behind Jake Hansen’s three points and Kent Patterson’s 20 saves, Minnesota rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Purple Eagles of Niagara in front of 9,844 at Mariucci Arena.
“You couldn’t ask for a better game to come back [from the holiday break] especially without [Nick] Bjugstad and [Kyle] Rau,” said Hansen of his teammates who are competing as members of Team USA at the World Junior Championship in Canada. “The boys responded pretty good, guys that haven’t played much got to get in the lineup.
“To outshoot your opponent (43-21) and out-compete them like that after 20 days [off], you can’t really ask for that much more.”
With the win, Minnesota (15-5-1, 11-3-0 WCHA) advances to Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game of the Mariucci Classic against the team they last defeated for the title, the Northeastern Huskies. Princeton awaits Niagara (5-6-6, 4-2-5 AH) in the 3 p.m. consolation game.
In addition to Hansen’s goal and two assists, Erik Haula chipped in two points (goal, assist), while freshman forward Sam Warning and sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt each contributed a pair of assists.
Schmidt now has 22 assists on the season, giving him the nation’s overall lead in that category.
“Obviously, we were excited to be back on the ice and just kind of get after this Friday night thing that’s been haunting us,” said Schmidt, referring to Minnesota’s 1-4-0 record in its previous five Friday contests. “We haven’t won this tournament in a couple years and so that was the biggest focus, you know, you’ve got to win on Friday night in order to set us up for a good weekend.
“It’s good to respond the way we did. They’re a good team, they hadn’t lost in their last six games, and we just wanted to try to get on them early.”
After making 27 saves over two periods, Purple Eagles starting goalie Cody Campbell was replaced by backup Colby Drost, who finished with 11 saves in the third. Tyler Matthews ended Patterson’s bid for a seventh shutout with a high shot from the right circle at 2:23 of the final period.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia praised the Purple Eagles when discussing some of the keys to the win after the game.
“Number one, we respected our opponent,” said Lucia. “I like the way they (Niagara) played. They’re well-coached, they get up and down the rink, they just didn’t sit back with five guys and that’s why they have a good program.”
Minnesota jumped on Niagara right away with a pair of rebound goals by Nick Larson and Hansen in the game’s opening 3:06.
“We got off to a great start and that’s something we talked about that we wanted to do,” said Lucia. “People talk about Fridays and we haven’t scored as much and tonight we did. The emphasis wash shooting pucks and getting to the net and scoring some blue paint goals, some rebound goals, and I think the first two were like that.”
Goals by Haula and Justin Holl in the final five minutes of the middle period gave the Gophers a 4-0 lead after two and, for all practical purposes, sealed the victory. Zach Budish capped off the scoring by finishing off a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play with Warning and Hansen on a power play with 6:59 to play.
Standing outside the locker room as his team celebrated a relatively rare Friday night win, Lucia was asked his thoughts on Northeastern, the Gophers’ next task at hand.
“Obviously, when you go in and sweep Notre Dame in their building and beat Michigan in their building and they haven’t lost in [seven], they’re a very confident hockey team right now,” Lucia said.