MINNEAPOLIS — When attending a game featuring a matchup of two of the nation’s top three scoring offenses, most fans would anticipate witnessing a high-scoring “shootout” of a game.
In a manner of speaking, Friday night’s patient crowd at Mariucci Arena got what they came for, although they were made to wait 58 minutes for it in No. 11 Colorado College’s 2-1 win over No. 4 Minnesota.
Gopher fans erupted when Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad pounced on a loose puck in the slot to tie the game at 1-1 with 1:17 to go in the third period. But the jubilation was short lived as CC’s Tim Hall outmuscled Gopher defenders in front of the Minnesota net to pot the game winner with just 36 seconds to play after David Citivarese won an offensive zone faceoff.
“That was a roller coaster of a game for sure, a lot of stuff happening,” said Hall, whose goal was just his second of the season. “My centerman Civitarese said ‘Just get to the back door, I’m going to try to go forward’ and luckily, the puck ended up back there and I just got it across the goal line.”
“We had the good charge,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “The disappointing thing, obviously, is you work hard to get the game tied late like we did and then made a mistake off our faceoff and that cost us the game and some valuable points.
“It’s like losing a game in overtime.”
Bjugstad’s 20th of the year came on Minnesota’s 38th of 39 shots in the game, but was the only one to elude Tigers goalie Josh Thorimbert, who was magnificent in his first experience at Mariucci Arena.
Kent Patterson also played well for Minnesota (16-9-1, 12-5-0 WCHA) in a 25-save effort.
“Both goalies played great, but Josh was especially good, he was really on his game, and he deserved that win,” said Hall.
“We played a really good road game,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “We got rewarded, we battled, we competed, I thought we skated well and I was very proud of our effort tonight.
“Obviously if you don’t get [good] goaltending early, you don’t have a chance and Thorimbert was great early and right to the very end.”
Following an evening of turning aside nearly everything that came his way, Thorimbert, fittingly, deflected much of the credit for his success to his teammates.
“They were clearing out rebounds, boxing guys out in front and doing a good job picking up sticks,” said Thorimbert.
After splitting time much of the season with incumbent starter Joe Howe, the sophomore netminder made a statement with his play Friday night that he is, perhaps, ready to be the No. 1 guy for the Colorado College (14-8-1, 11-6-0 WCHA).
When asked about it, Owens praised his goalie, but refused to be painted into a corner on the subject.
“He’s [played] at home a lot except for Mankato, so this was a huge test for him,” Owens said of Thorimbert. “I thought he was really composed. He looked sure on the puck all night long.”
“Every time we were in a position to score, [Thorimbert] made the save,” said Lucia. “They were able to get that first goal and play with a lead and they played a good, smart, efficient road game.”
After a scoreless first period, the Tigers took the game’s first lead on senior Nick Dineen’s 13th goal of the season at 4:04 of the second. Alexander Krushelnyski forced a Jake Hansen turnover in the Minnesota zone, allowing Dineen to scoop up the loose puck behind the Gopher defense and tuck a backhand shot between Patterson’s pads.
A good game erupted into a great one just past the game’s midpoint when Kyle Rau blasted CC forward and fellow Minnesotan Archie Skalbeck with a vicious, but clean, open-ice hit just inside the Minnesota zone. One minute later, Rau’s shot from the left circle beat Thorimbert, but clanged off the crossbar.
The game’s intensity picked up from there, but the goaltenders, Thorimbert in particular, kept it a one-goal game heading into the final period.
Minnesota let a tremendous opportunity to tie the game and possibly take a lead when Skalbeck chose an ill-timed moment to exact revenge on Rau. Skalbeck got his man, but was rewarded with a major penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct at 7:37 of the third.
But for the third time in four games, the Gophers failed to capitalize on a five-minute advantage and managed just four shots in the process.
“I thought our power play was moving it around pretty good but we just couldn’t get the quality chances we needed to score,” said Bjugstad. That was a good opportunity to get us back in the game and we didn’t really capitalize on that.”
Minnesota held the Tigers scoreless on two shots in four power plays and were successful in keeping CC’s explosive top line of Jaden Schwartz, Rylan Schwartz, and Jeff Collett in check but it wasn’t enough.
“I thought our penalty kill did a good job and we kept, I think, the Schwartzes [Jaden and Rylan] off the board tonight,” said Lucia. “You think going in if you can do those things you’ll give yourself a good chance to win.”
The two teams square off once again on Saturday with the series finale scheduled for 5 p.m. to accommodate Fox Sports North’s Hockey Day Minnesota promotion.