Wolverine State trip provides a win and a tie

Chris Lempesis

Another weekend on the road, another three-point performance for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team.

The seventh-ranked Gophers stretched their unbeaten streak to six games (4-0-2) after skating to a 2-2 tie with No. 18 Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich. The tie came on the heels of Friday’s 6-3 win over top-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Both games were a part of the annual College Hockey Showcase.

“We played some pretty good teams and came out all right,” senior defenseman Chris Harrington said.

“We still won the two trophies (the Mariucci-Renfrew Trophy for the Michigan win and the Mariucci-Bessone Trophy because Minnesota beat the Spartans last year) we’re playing for against those teams. So we can’t be really disappointed.”

If there is any disappointment (7-3-4 overall), it stems from Saturday night’s contest in East Lansing.

In that game, Minnesota jumped out to a 1-0 lead 1:16 into the game on a goal by junior forward Danny Irmen, his first of the season. After the Spartans tied it up later in the frame, Irmen notched his second tally of the night at 15:08.

The lead was short-lived, however, as Michigan State evened the score just 21 seconds later. Both teams failed to make a dent on the scoreboard over the final two periods and overtime.

“After a game like we played on Friday night, we’re a little upset about the tie,” junior forward Ryan Potulny said.

Harrington echoed Potulny’s sentiments, saying the game was “kind of a letdown” for the team.

In order for there to be a letdown, a great high must be experienced. And Minnesota certainly had that Friday against the Wolverines.

Although Michigan got on the board just 20 seconds in, the Gophers charged back with a vengeance, scoring four unanswered goals over a span of just 6:14 in the first period. A pair of those went to Potulny and freshman forward Phil Kessel. Sophomore forward Mike Howe had the other two.

Potulny and Kessel weren’t done yet, either.

After Michigan scored twice to cut the Minnesota lead to 4-3, Potulny picked up the hat trick, ” the second of his collegiate career ” late in the second on a power play. All three of his goals came with the advantage. Kessel then closed out the scoring with a goal early in the third, also on the power play.

The power-play unit was a crucial part in the victory, accounting for five goals in all. The players said the team spent a considerable amount of time on the power play in practice last week due to the fact that, coming into the game, Michigan had the fifth-best penalty kill percentage in the nation.

However, the power play wasn’t the only special teams unit that turned in a solid night Friday. The Gophers held the Wolverines to a 1-for-11 showing on the power play. Minnesota also held Michigan to just seven shots for those 11 power plays.

The fact that everything seemed to click for Minnesota on Friday is indicative with where the team is at this point in the season. The Gophers seem to have put their sluggish, somewhat disappointing start in the rearview mirror and are now showing flashes of the team most people thought they would be before the season started.

“It’s a long season,” Irmen said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

“Yeah, we didn’t have the best start, but you can’t win the league in the first month of the season.”

Fairchild commits

Defenseman Cade Fairchild, considered to be one of the top recruits available for the 2007-2008 season, has verbally committed to play for the Gophers, Fairchild said Sunday.

Fairchild, listed at 5-foot, 10-inches, 160 pounds, is playing for the U.S. National Under-17 team in Ann Arbor, Mich. He said he informed coach Don Lucia of his decision Wednesday. Fairchild said he was also considering Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin.

“I’m excited,” Fairchild said in a phone interview. “(Minnesota’s) kind of where I always wanted to go.”

In 17 games with the U-17 team this season, Fairchild has two goals and three assists for five points. Fairchild is a native of Duluth and played for Duluth East his first two years of high school before becoming a member of the U-17 team.

Fairchild said Lucia was pleased by his decision.

“He was very excited,” Fairchild said. “I think we’re both looking forward to it.”