Wheeler, Barriball lead Gophers in sweep

C.J. Spang

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team used a pair of dominating performances to pick up its first two wins of the season over the lowly Wayne State.

The Gophers got their first win of the season with a 7-1 thumping of the Warriors on Friday and completed the weekend sweep with a 5-1 victory Saturday.

Despite the lopsided scores, coach Don Lucia said he was impressed with Wayne State’s hard-nosed play.

“I thought Wayne State came in and played aggressive. I thought they played hard both games right to the end – they made us work for it,” he said. “But we know it’s going to get more difficult from here on out.”

It was a one-sided contest from the get-go Friday, as Minnesota dominated all facets of the game.

The Gophers didn’t allow a shot in the first 10 minutes of play, while putting up 10 of their own.

Junior defenseman Alex Goligoski got Minnesota on the board first when he scored just 8:15 into the contest.

Goligoski had the puck just inside the blue line and faked a slap shot that made the Wayne State defender slide to the ice in attempt to block the shot, which allowed Goligoski to skate in and rip a wrist shot through traffic and into the back of the net. Freshman defenseman Erik Johnson had the first assist for his first career point.

With just more than a minute left in the first period, junior forward Ben Gordon scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, as he trailed behind the play then sneaked in front of the net, putting home a pass from sophomore forward Blake Wheeler.

The Gophers tacked on four more goals in the second period, then one more in the third. But the most impressive part of the third period was Minnesota’s defense giving up zero shots.

Everyone was in on the scoring action as 13 Gophers scored a point, but it was Wheeler and Gordon leading the way as Wheeler had two goals and an assist and Gordon had one goal and two assists.

“I think a lot of us were pressing in that Maine game,” Wheeler said. “Coach came up to me over the week and he said relax, play your game, don’t press so much Ö so that helped me relax a lot more on the ice tonight.”

But Wayne State didn’t let Friday’s drubbing get it down, coming out aggressive and nearly taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the early minutes of the contest.

The Warriors had two gimmes in the first three minutes, but unfortunately for them they were unable to connect on either opportunity.

The first chance came when sophomore goaltender Jeff Frazee went behind the net to play the puck and Wayne State was able to get the puck with an open net but couldn’t score.

Frazee was caught out of position again two minutes later, leaving the net open, but once again the Warriors couldn’t convert.

“Good teams (convert),” Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson said. “(We) don’t have an overly abundant bunch of scorers, so we’ve got to capitalize and get some luck going.”

Luckily for the Warriors, freshman goaltender Brett Bothwell – making his first career collegiate start – kept them in the game, stopping all 19 shots he faced in the first period, seven of which came with Wayne State playing shorthanded.

Bothwell’s strong play certainly left an impression on Lucia.

“I thought their goaltender played well tonight and made a lot of good saves,” Lucia said. “I thought he went in there and did a really good job for his first career start, and I think that bodes well for certainly Wayne State’s program.”

But Bothwell’s magic didn’t carry over into the second period as Minnesota was finally able to break through and freshman forward Jay Barriball scored 30 seconds into the period.

The Gophers scored four more goals in the period, including three on the power play, putting the Warriors away for good.

Barriball and freshman forward Kyle Okposo each had two goals, while Gordon and Goligoski each had a pair of assists.

“They don’t want to come here and lose a game 7-1 and then just pack her in, and lose Saturday night just as badly,” Okposo said. “They want to come out and compete, and we knew that was coming.”