Sweep! Sweep! Gophers trounce Huskies

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team earned four crucial WCHA points by taking two from Michigan Tech.

by Lou Raguse

The 3-0 victory over Michigan Tech by Minnesota’s men’s hockey team Saturday marked a series of firsts for the Gophers’ freshman.

The first-year players experienced their first post-game hockey stick salute celebrating the series sweep to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Defensemen Mike Vannelli and Jake Taylor scored their first Minnesota career goals over the weekend. Goaltender Kellen Briggs posted his first collegiate shutout as Minnesota (4-7-1, 3-6-1 WCHA) completed the series sweep against Michigan Tech (2-7-3, 0-6-2).

But most importantly, the series was the rookies’ first taste of Gophers hockey as the upperclassmen know it – dominating hockey marked by a controlling offense with all parts of the lineup contributing.

“We’ve got to remember this feeling,” Briggs said. “It was a good four points, but we still have to keep going.”

Minnesota’s sweep and four league points earned a collective sigh of relief from the Gophers’ locker room. The players responded by blasting Michael Jackson tracks on the stereo.

Minnesota dominated both games, especially Saturday when Michigan Tech goaltender Cam Ellsworth was exasperated just minutes into the first period.

The Gophers out-shot the Huskies 28-6 in the stanza but

tallied only one goal on a Danny Irmen shot that capped off

a lengthy sequence in the offensive zone. The goal was the freshman’s third on the season and another example of the rookie class turning its game up a notch.

Irmen played center, where he has played since Ryan Potulny’s knee injury. Coach Don Lucia likes Irmen better at this


“Danny seems to play with more energy at center,” Lucia said. “I think it gives him a little more freedom to move around the rink.”

In the second period, the Gophers’ attack was slightly stalled until 13:13 elapsed and Taylor lit the lamp on a Garrett Smaagaard pass. The assist stretched Smaagaard’s point-scoring streak to six games.

Lucia joked that Taylor didn’t know what to do after scoring. The defenseman’s game typically does not revolve around scoring – last season in the USHL, he scored only eight.

“The only thing running through my mind was shoot as hard as I could because I don’t get a lot of opportunities like that,” Taylor said.

In Friday’s game, which Minnesota won 6-2, six different Gophers found net. Twelve different players contributed to the


“That’s Gopher hockey,” assistant coach Bob Motzko said. “It’s not a one-guy show; we are built on creating offense all through our lineup.”

Michigan Tech slowed the game’s tempo after the initial face-off, and Minnesota didn’t start to dictate things until late in the first period when Gino Guyer scored on a Keith Ballard assist.

The Gophers were off to the races after that goal, slowed only by two Michigan Tech goals in the second half.

“I needed to close out this game and show the coaches that I can do it,” goaltender Justin Johnson said. “It was a big confidence-booster for me.”

Meanwhile, Huskies’ goaltender Ellsworth was left with comments Saturday similar to those of Minnesota players from the previous few series.

“We had some positives, but we’re still one step away,” he said.