Men’s hockey defeats Niagara 5-1

The Gophers will play Northeastern in the Mariucci Classic championship game Saturday night.

Drew Claussen

Missing stars Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau because of the 2012 World Junior Championships, the Gophers men’s hockey team defeated Niagara 5-1 on Friday in its first game of the annual Mariucci Classic.

âÄúWe got off to a great start,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said. âÄúPeople have talked about Fridays and we havenâÄôt scored as much — there was an emphasis with shooting pucks and getting to the net.âÄù

The Gophers’ offense looked good early in the game, scoring two goals early, despite a 20-day layoff since playing Michigan Tech before the holiday break.

âÄúYou couldnâÄôt ask for a better game to come back, especially with Bjugstad and Rau [missing],âÄù Hansen said. âÄúThe boys responded pretty good. Guys that havenâÄôt played much got to get into the lineup.

âÄúTo win 5-1 like that and to outshoot your opponent after 20 days — you canâÄôt really ask for that much more.âÄù

Minnesota scored two early goals in the first period, both coming off rebounds. Nick Larson scored his third goals on the year two minutes into the game and Jake Hansen scored his ninth of the season about a minute later.

The Gophers managed five goals in the game despite missing Bjugstad and Rau, who are first and third on the team in points respectively.

Minnesota also scored two goals late in the second period.

Erik Haula scored off another rebound given up by Niagara goaltender Cody Campbell.

âÄúIt was a good all-around effort from my team. Our specialty is our goalie and just all four lines played really well today,âÄù Haula said.

With 30 seconds left in the second period, Justin Holl scored the sixth goal of the season. The goal was a result of four beautiful tape-to-tape passes by the Gophers’ top line in and around the slot, leaving Holl open on the right side of the goal crease for the tap-in goal.

Colby Drost replaced Campbell in goal for Niagara during the third period.

Niagara scored its only goal of the game two minutes into the third period when Tyler Matthews scored his first goal of the season, beating Gophers goalie Kent Patterson.

The Gophers responded 10 minutes later when Zach Budish scored his fifth goal of the season on a power play.

Minnesota had five penalties in the game while Niagara had three. BudishâÄôs goal was the only power play goal of the game.

The Gophers now sit at 4-2-1 against nonconference opponents, a record that Haula said the team discussing heading into the tournament.

âÄúWe were 3-2-1 before the night and we talked about how huge that is for the end of the year, these nonconference games,âÄù Haula said. âÄúWe want to take full advantage of all these games.âÄù

Minnesota will play in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic on Saturday at 6 p.m. against Northeastern.

âÄú[Northeastern] is a good team,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúObviously when you go in and sweep Notre Dame in their building and beat Michigan in their building and they havenâÄôt lost in eight [games], theyâÄôre a very confident hockey team right now.âÄù