Three if by stick, sweep if by skate

Aaron Blake

Minnesota men’s hockey freshman Kris Chucko lamented after this weekend’s series versus Minnesota State-Mankato that he still hadn’t shot the puck in the net after seven games this year.

But this weekend, he scored two important goals anyway.

Chucko’s first collegiate goal – a deflection of a Derek Peltier slapshot Friday – awoke a stagnant offense in a 9-2 coming-out party for Minnesota’s freshmen. His second goal – a deflection of a Garrett Smaagaard pass in overtime Saturday – gave the Gophers a 3-2 win and a sweep of Minnesota State-Mankato this weekend at Mariucci Arena.

Saturday’s victory gave Minnesota a school-record 13th-straight home win.

Chucko’s game-winning goal at 1:48 of overtime was somewhat controversial, as it appeared to deflect off his skate and into the goal.

It was called a goal initially and confirmed after a 30-second conference by the officials, giving the sixth-ranked Gophers (5-2-0, 3-1-0 WCHA) the win.

Minnesota State-Mankato (0-5-1, 0-5-1) coach Troy Jutting took exception to the ruling after Saturday’s game. Gophers coach Don Lucia said he understood the rule differently, saying that as long as the player doesn’t kick the puck, it’s a goal.

“The referee, to his credit, was there,” Lucia said. “And he was adamant about it.

“Kris made the play, and if you go to the net, good things happen.”

Minnesota went to the net hard often Saturday, but its offense was mostly thwarted by Mavericks goaltender Jon Volp.

The Gophers didn’t put a shot on goal until just more than five minutes remained in the first period. Thereafter, Volp saved 25 of 28 shots a night after teammate Kyle Nixon stopped just 25 of 34.

Volp’s biggest save came with 20 seconds remaining Saturday and the score tied 2-2.

Smaagaard streaked in one-on-one and went to the backhand for the win. But Volp reached right, snatched the puck and brought the game to overtime.

A pinpoint outlet pass from Peter Kennedy to Smaagaard at the blue line, followed by the senior’s sharp crossing pass to Chucko, ended the game.

“I thought Smaagaard had a really good game today,” Lucia said. “He had a couple chances to end it late, and it was nice that he was involved in the winning play.”

But Friday’s game didn’t belong to upperclassmen like Smaagaard.

Minnesota’s freshman class scored the team’s first three goals and five of the nine Friday, including Chucko’s, Peltier’s and Mike Howe’s first career goals.

Chucko evened the score 1-1 16:24 into the first period Friday, and Nixon’s night only got worse.

Minnesota scored four times in both the second and third periods en route to the blowout.

Howe finished with two goals, and fellow freshman Brent Borgen scored his second goal of the season in the third period.

Andy Sertich, Danny Irmen, Smaagaard and Barry Tallackson scored one each of the four non-freshman goals, and sophomore goalie Kellen Briggs saved 40 of 42 shots.

“We’re a young team, so a lot of us are going to have to take a little more responsibility on our shoulders than a normal freshman class would,” Howe said.

“It was a special night for sure.”

Not to be outdone by their elders Saturday, the freshmen again accounted for the majority of the goals. Peltier scored the team’s first goal, and Chucko added the game-winner with sophomore Ryan Potulny’s nation-leading eighth goal of the season sandwiched between.

“They played like upperclassmen again (Saturday),” Briggs said. “So that’s kind of what we expect from them now. Hopefully, they can carry it on the rest of the year.”

Hagemo, Sertich injured

Lucia said freshman defenseman Nate Hagemo spent a night at the hospital after leaving Friday’s game in the second period. Lucia said after Saturday’s game that Hagemo hadn’t broken anything and the team didn’t know whether he would miss time.

Junior forward Andy Sertich limped off the ice late in the third period Saturday after hitting his right leg in a collision. He returned to the game shortly thereafter, and Lucia said he was “fine.”