>The second-ranked Gophers picked up a pair of 3-2 victories Friday and Saturday, with the second game’s win coming in overtime.
Friday night’s contest featured an impressive late-game comeback by the Bulldogs that forced the two teams to battle to the last second.
St. Cloud State
WHEN: 7:07 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Mariucci Arena
“The game had everything,” coach Don Lucia said. “Two five-minute majors, a penalty shot, 5-on-3 (power-play opportunities), short-handed goals, power-play goals – (it was a) typical Duluth/Minnesota game.”
Power plays proved pivotal Friday night, as Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth combined for 22 penalties.
The Gophers took advantage of both teams’ penalty-ridden play, scoring one power-play goal, another while its power play was expiring and one short-handed.
Minnesota collected its last goal while on the penalty kill – a quick short-handed score by sophomore Ryan Stoa 53 seconds into the third period – extending the lead to 3-0.
With the Bulldogs on the power play, a shot rattled around the boards into the neutral zone. Minnesota-Duluth sophomore defenseman Matt Niskanen went to retrieve the loose puck, but Stoa cleanly picked his pocket at the Bulldogs’ blue line and skated in on net.
Stoa beat freshman goalie Alex Stalock to his lower stick side, sneaking the puck just inside the goalie’s arm.
“I really just got my feet going and had a little more speed than the defenseman,” Stoa said.
But harboring a three-goal lead, the Gophers (8-1-0 overall, 4-0-0 WCHA) soon felt heat from Minnesota-Duluth.
With 16:53 remaining in the third period, Bulldogs freshman center Jordan Fulton fought off senior defenseman Mike Vannelli in the corner while feeding a one-time goal to senior winger Bryan McGregor.
Then, after junior defenseman Alex Goligoski received a five-minute major for checking from behind, the Bulldogs went on the power play for the rest of the game.
Sophomore winger Michael Gergen beat senior goaltender Kellen Briggs by ripping a shot from the top of the circles, cutting the Minnesota lead to 3-2.
But the Gophers, who killed off 10-of-11 Minnesota-Duluth power-play opportunities, held the Bulldogs scoreless the rest of the contest.
Briggs improved to 3-0-0 on the season, turning away 26 of the 28 shots he faced.
“We kind of weathered the storm,” Briggs said. “We haven’t had to do that this year very much.”
Minnesota was again pushed to the limit in earning its 3-2 win Saturday.
Finding themselves down twice in the contest, the Gophers used two power-play goals in regulation and a nifty backhand shot over Stalock just 50 seconds into overtime to earn the victory.
In overtime, senior forward Tyler Hirsch took a pass from freshman forward Kyle Okposo, skated toward Stalock down the goal line and quickly found the top corner above the sprawling netminder.
“Kyle and I hadn’t been clicking too much all night,” Hirsch said. “I got a lot of room to breathe on the wing and he made a calm pass – you don’t see many plays like that from a freshman.”
Minnesota-Duluth (2-4-2, 1-4-1) took the first lead of the game by utilizing its first power play, capped off by a high-rising snap shot off the stick of sophomore winger Mason Raymond four minutes into the first period.
It was the Bulldogs’ first shot of the game.
The rest of the way, it was a battle of goaltenders between Stalock and Minnesota sophomore Jeff Frazee.
After giving up the early power-play goal, Frazee buckled down to steer away 18 of the last 19 shots he faced.
“I think it’s the best goaltending we’ve had up here in a while,” Lucia said. “You’ve got to have that – you can’t go on the road and win without quality goaltending.”
After a pair of physically draining games for Minnesota, the Gophers walked away with their perfect conference record intact.
“It was a tough weekend,” Hirsch said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the whole team, because it wasn’t an easy pair of wins.”
Jay Barriball was named the CSTV/HCA National Division I Rookie of the Month on Friday. The freshman forward on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team scored a point in his first seven collegiate games.
Heading into this weekend’s series against Minnesota-Duluth – in which he had an assist Friday – Barriball had 11 points on six goals and five assists, leading all rookies in the country. He was also tied for the lead in scoring in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
– C.J. Spang contributed to this report.