HOUGHTON, Mich. — After rolling over the Michigan State Spartans last weekend, the No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers were looking more of the same in their WCHA opener on the road at Michigan Tech.
The Huskies had other plans, striking three times in the opening frame en route to a 5-3 victory Friday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
“We got off to a good start,” said Huskies’ coach Mel Pearson. “I thought Pheonix Copley played a heck of a hockey game. I think that was the difference.”
Skating in on a three-on-two in the second period, center Dennis Rix set up what would stand as the game-winning goal when he pushed the puck forward to a crashing Chad Pietila. The winger wasted little time picking the top corner at 6:22. The goal, the Huskies’ fourth of the night, ended Gophers’ goaltender Mike Shibrowski’s night early.
“I thought we had a poor start,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We had a few bobbles at the blue line that cost us.”
The game opened with bodies flying both up and down the ice and into the boards as both teams looked to physically beat their opponent, as well as outscore them. A blocked pass from Gophers’ defenseman Mark Alt changed the course of the game.
Huskies’ winger Jujhar Khaira blocked the pass, took off up the ice and found winger Alex Petan crashing the net. Petan stumbled briefly, but recovered enough to lift the puck over Shibrowski’s left shoulder to give the Huskies the lead at 3:32.
The Gophers responded well to the adversity, taking control of the game for the next several minutes.
Sam Warning had the first good Gophers’ chance when he tipped a shot in front of Copley, who finished the night with 28 saves.
With Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson and MTU defenseman Daniel Sova both off the ice for separate infractions, the Gophers evened the game as winger Nate Condon fired a shot that Copley had trouble handling. The rebound kicked out to a crashing Nate Schmidt and the defenseman wasted no time burying the puck behind Copley at 9:13.
After the goal, the Huskies (2-1-0 overall, 1-0-0 WCHA) settled into the game and began to force the game at the Gophers’ defense. Eventually, they broke through on the power play when winger Ryan Furne ripped a shot from the right point that was redirected by winger Blake Pietila in front of Shibrowski for a goal at 14:48.
“I kind of took a goal away from Furne,” said Pietila. “I got a stick on it, kind of a lucky stick.”
The Huskies struck again a little over 20 seconds later when winger C.J. Eick intercepted a clearing pass, skated the puck into the Minnesota zone and fired a shot that Shibrowski had difficulty handling. The rebound kicked straight out front to Rix, who scored his third goal in as many games at 15:10.
Looking for a stronger start to the second period, the Gophers got just that when center Nick Bjugstad took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Ben Marshall at the right point and picked the top corner blocker side on Copley at 2:51.
The Gophers (2-1-0 overall, 0-1-0 WCHA) used the momentum of the goal to control play for a couple of minutes before the Huskies got their feet back underneath them. Copley made a key save on winger Kyle Rau a little over a minute later that kept the lead intact.
Copley again came up big for the Huskies when winger Christian Isaacson received a pass in the slot on a Gophers’ power play.
“The defense was great in front of me,” said Copley. “They kept a lot stuff to the outside and helped clean up the second opportunities.”
The Huskies extended their lead to three goals late in the middle frame as Blake Pietila took a pass in the slot from center Tanner Kero. The sophomore deked out new Gophers’ netminder Adam Wilcox for his second of the night at 18:27.
Trailing by three late in the third, the Gophers cut the lead to two on the power play when winger Travis Boyd received a pass from Isaacson and buried a one-timer behind Copley at 17:50. Condon picked up his second assist of the night on the goal.
Lucia pulled Wilcox with 1:56 remaining. The Gophers had several chances to score with the extra skater, but time and time again were thwarted by Copley.
Wilcox and Shibrowski combined to make 21 saves in the loss.