Gophers earn sweep in showcase

Mark Remme

It was an enigmatic weekend for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team, but in the end, it yielded familiar results.

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Minnesota State
WHEN: 7:07 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Mariucci Arena
RADIO: 107.5 FM

The top-ranked Gophers snuck past sixth-ranked Michigan State with a 5-4 victory Friday night, then pummeled No. 7 Michigan in an 8-2 drubbing on Saturday. Both games were at Mariucci Arena as part of the College Hockey Showcase.

Friday night’s matchup with the Spartans paralleled a contest Minnesota played with St. Cloud State two weeks ago.

Much like that game with the Huskies, the Gophers blew a two-goal lead in the third period when Michigan State (6-5-1 overall, 4-4-1 CCHA) found the net twice in a span of 36 seconds.

“It felt like déjà vu from that St. Cloud game, giving up a two-goal in the third period,” junior defenseman Alex Goligoski said.

But, unlike its 5-5 tie with St. Cloud State, Minnesota (12-1-2, 6-0-2 WCHA) found a way to win in the final period on Friday.

Goligoski made sure of that, finding twine on a one-timer from senior forward Tyler Hirsch with 8:40 remaining.

Hirsch, who missed both games last weekend for academic reasons, recorded his team-high 15th assist on Goligoski’s power-play, game-winning score.

“(Hirsch) is so good at moving the puck around and is such a good passer that whenever he’s on our power play, it’s going to help us,” Goligoski said.

The name of the game for Minnesota’s offense was keeping traffic in front of Michigan State sophomore goaltender Jeff Lerg, and that’s exactly what the team did.

The 5-foot-6-inch netminder harbors a quick glove and stellar reflexes, but Spartans coach Rick Comley said his goalie’s small stature makes it hard to stop deflections.

“If he sees it, he’s gonna stop it,” Comley said. “When it’s tipped on him he doesn’t cover as much net, and Minnesota did a good job getting tips.”

Coach Don Lucia said applying congestion in front of Lerg was part of the Gophers’ game plan on the evening and it worked, as two goals resulted directly from deflections.

Another strategic move by Lucia was starting sophomore goalie Jeff Frazee on Friday night in place of regular first-game starter, senior Kellen Briggs.

“I went with Jeff because he played well against Michigan State last year – Kellen has played well against Michigan,” Lucia said. “If we played Michigan first, Kellen would have played tonight.”

While Friday’s game featured two teams battling to the end, Saturday’s game with the Wolverines (11-4-0, 7-2-0 CCHA) was about as lopsided as they come.

And it belonged almost entirely to Minnesota’s freshmen.

First-year players accounted for six of the eight Gophers goals, including two each by centers Mike Carman and Jim O’Brien.

In all, eight Minnesota freshmen recorded at least one point in a night where the team’s offensive onslaught produced 52 shots on goal.

“The freshmen are working hard,” O’Brien said. “The upperclassmen are showing leadership and helping us along the way.”

The Gophers’ penalty-kill unit exploded for three short-handed goals on the night. Carman netted two of those scores while freshman forward Tony Lucia added another.

Not only did Minnesota convert while Michigan was on the power play, but it also forced the Wolverines to go 0-for-3 on the man advantage. Coach Lucia said that type of play is a winning formula.

“Any time you get three short-handed goals, you’re going to win the game, let’s be honest,” he said.

But while the Gophers freshmen bolstered much of the scoring, it was the senior netminder, Briggs, who kept the high-scoring Wolverines offense at bay.

Briggs made crucial saves throughout the game, and the only goals allowed were because of stellar plays by Wolverines senior center T.J. Hensick.

Hensick scored short-handed 13:06 into the second period, then added his NCAA-leading 21st assist on junior winger Kevin Porter’s two-on-one goal in the third.

“(Hensick’s) a great player,” coach Lucia said. “He made that pass on the two-on-one, and he’s the last person you want to see have the puck in that situation.”

Though Minnesota held on to success in one game and thoroughly dominated the other, both games added to the Gophers’ win column and, perhaps even more, their belief in being able to compete with teams both in their conference and around the nation.

“We’ve got good confidence,” Carman said. “It gives us momentum going back into league play next weekend.”