Although a bevy of offensive firepower was on hand at Mariucci Arena in the form of Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, along with the brothers Schwartz (Jaden and Rylan) for Colorado College, it was, ironically, a pair of unlikely heroes who were the difference makers on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
Nate Condon scored short-handed to get No. 4 Minnesota on the board, while seldom-used Gophers senior forward Nico Sacchetti’s goal at 5:16 of the second period stood up as the game-winner in the Minnesota’s 2-1 win over No. 11 Colorado College in front of 10,087 to gain a series split.
Gophers goalie Kent Patterson earned his 17th victory of the season with 19 saves, including stopping Colorado College’s Jeff Collett twice in succession in the game’s closing seconds.
“I thought we got better as the game went on,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We had some opportunities to stretch the lead but we couldn’t, and we were able to make the one [by Sacchetti] stand up.”
“They’re a top three defensive team in the country, and I think they showed it tonight,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “There was not a lot of room out there, despite it being an Olympic sheet, so a lot of the credit has to go to them and their defensive play.
“That being said, I don’t think I’ve seen our power play this out of synch in a couple years and, obviously, that was a big part as far as generating chances.”
Neither team generated any offense with the man advantage in the series, as the WCHA’s top two-ranked power-play units coming into the weekend went a combined 0-for-15 in the two games.
A put-back of his own rebound, Sacchetti’s goal was his first of the year in only his eighth game played of the season for Minnesota (17-9-1, 13-5-0 WCHA). Sacchetti was taking the place of Nick Larson, who broke his wrist last Saturday against North Dakota.
“It’s tough to see Nick Larson go down, he’s having a really good year, but we have a deep team,” said Sacchetti. “It just opens up opportunities, and I was trying to make something with mine.
“It was a huge relief.”
Lucia was more than pleased with Sacchetti’s performance.
“He’s been frustrated and I’m sure he wants to play more,” said Lucia. “[With] a game like he played tonight, he deserves to play more, so he’ll get rewarded next week.”
A night after nearly shutting out the Gophers, CC goaltender Josh Thorimbert, who played his second strong game in as many nights for Colorado College (14-9-1, 11-7-0 WCHA), took the loss despite 35 saves.
“He was so strong and consistent,” Owens said of Thorimbert’s play in the series. “To play back-to-back games like this, we really haven’t put him in this position all year long except for at [Minnesota State], and I thought he gave us a chance again [to win].”
The Tigers led 1-0 just past the 15-minute mark of the first period when Jeff Collett’s pass from below the goal line found linemate Jaden Schwartz open at the doorstep for a quick one-timer behind Patterson.
However, Condon answered less than three minutes later with the Tigers on a power play.
With teammate Jake Parenteau off for cross-checking, Condon crossed the CC blue line with linemate Taylor Matson alongside him. As Matson broke to the net, Colorado College’s Scott Winkler and Gabe Guentzel converged upon him, setting up a screen through which Condon fired from between the circles, beating Thorimbert high to the glove side.
“I was just trying to find a little hole there with the three guys that were in front of me,” said Condon. “I was just trying to get it on net and not hit Taylor in the back, so I just kind of waited until he got out of the way a little bit and then shot it through the gap.”
It was Condon’s fourth short-handed goal of the season, which leaves the sophomore forward trailing only Colgate’s Austin Smith (five) for the national lead in that category.
“Taylor and I just take advantage of the opportunities we get,” said Condon. “A lot of time on the power play, [opponents] have one defenseman back so if we can jump up the ice, it’s an odd-man rush for us.”
Condon nearly scored a second goal at 10:01 of the second to give Minnesota a slight cushion when Matson played the puck with his hand in front of the net, which trickled through traffic to Condon’s stick in the crease. Condon easily buried the chance but, after a lengthy review, the officials waved the goal off due to a hand pass.
WCHA Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd said although the pack may have been contacted between leaving Matson’s hand and finding Condon’s stick, the ruling was that no clear possession was established in the interim.
Short of completing the sweep, Owens was content with his team’s performance.
“Our compete level was better and our defensive posture was better,” said Owens. “I was pretty happy with the way we played; I just was hoping we could maybe sneak a point out of here tonight.”
Colorado College has next weekend off before a home-and-home series with Denver on Feb. 3-4, while the Gophers battle St. Cloud State in a home-and-home of their own on Jan. 27-28.