MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Garrett Vermeersch’s power-play goal by with 5:37 to go in the third period provided Northeastern with a two-goal cushion and the Huskies held on for a 3-2 win over Minnesota, earning them the Mariucci Classic title that came with it.
“This was just a great victory for our team coming into this building and playing a quality opponent like Minnesota,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “I’m proud of our guys; I’m proud of the way our team competed and got the win.”
Vermeersch scored the game winner with one second remaining in a 5-on-3 advantage, the third and final such opportunity for the Huskies out of 12 power plays surrendered by Minnesota overall on the night.
“Before he went out there, I told Vermie [Vermeersch] he was going to score,” said tournament MVP Braden Pimm. “He had a pretty good opportunity right before that, too.
“It’s a good confidence booster for our power play and for us as a team to be able to put a team away on the power play.”
A crowd of 8,765 postponed New Year’s Eve festivities to witness Northeastern (8-7-3, 4-7-2 HE) extend its unbeaten streak to eight games (7-0-1) and, in the process, leave the Minnesota (15-6-1, 11-3-0 WCHA) still searching for its first win in its annual holiday tournament since beating the Huskies for 2008-09 title.
Northeastern goaltender Chris Rawlings made 30 saves to earn the victory, while his Minnesota counterpart, Kent Patterson took the loss despite 27 saves of his own.
Forward Nate Condon had a goal and an assist for Minnesota.
“No disrespect to any of the goaltenders in Hockey East, I think he’s the best goalie in Hockey East and I think he’s the best goalie, you know, in the country,” Madigan said of Rawlings. “He’s helped us out with a young defense early on as we made a transition [to a] young coaching staff and new systems.
“The guy’s a rock back there for us; he’s been very good all year long.”
Minnesota and Northeastern combined for three goals in a 4:43 span early in the second period, but it was the Huskies who potted the most crucial of the trio.
A Seth Helgeson cross-checking penalty just 27 seconds into the second period had the Huskies poised to cash in for the game’s first lead.
But it was the Gophers who struck first.
Just seconds into the man-advantage, a pass intended for Northeastern’s Anthony Bitetto at the left point was deflected into the neutral zone where Condon scooped up the loose puck and went in alone on Rawlings, beating the Huskies’ goaltender up top.
“You’re not going to give yourself a chance to win when you take a dozen penalties,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It seemed like we had our greatest energy at times in the game when we were shorthanded and had our best chances.”
But at the 1:57 mark, Minnesota’s Erik Haula joined Helgeson in the penalty box, giving the Huskies their first two-man advantage. Just three seconds later, a clean faceoff win by Justin Daniels went right to Vinny Saponari, who one-timed a shot from between the circles past Patterson to even the score at a goal apiece.
Shortly thereafter, Pimm (10 points in his last six games) forced a turnover in the Gophers zone and fed Steve Quailer at the bottom of the left circle. With a clear path to the Minnesota net, Quailer raced to the crease area and slipped an against-the-grain backhand shot under Patterson at 5:38 to give Northeastern the 2-1 lead upon which it would cling until Vermeersch’s goal.
The teams played to a scoreless first period which Minnesota largely carried in building a 12-4 advantage in shots, but the opening 20 minutes weren’t without a couple of scares for each team.
A scramble in front of the Minnesota net at the 10 minute mark left Patterson sprawled outside of his goal crease and Vermeersch preparing to deposit the puck into an open net, but Haula denied the attempt with a head-first slide across the blue paint.
Less than five minutes later, Gophers senior forward Joey Miller spun in the slot and fired a shot from the center hash marks off the left post.
“They play the game fast and they think the game fast, so you’ve got to play to their level quickly,” said Madigan. “That’s why I think we were on our heels a little bit until we got used to their speed and their pace.
“After weathering the storm and getting great goaltending the first 10 minutes of the [first] period, I thought that was the difference and just allowed our guys to feel a little more comfortable.”
“Right off the bat, they came out flying, they were playing really well and it kind of caught me off guard,” said Pimm. “We kind of just relaxed, played our game, and kind of settled down after the first period.”
“It was nice playing against a good team like that and in such a nice building like this in front of so many fans.”
After Minnesota pulled Patterson in the final minute, Gophers forward Taylor Matson scored with 17.9 seconds to provide the final margin.
“They’re a good team, their goaltender played well, they’re obviously on a roll right now, and they played a good, smart game,” said an obviously upset Lucia. “I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance to win the game. You can’t play a third of the game shorthanded and have three 5-on-3s and expect to win games very often.”