Gophers men’s hockey win, tie in rival series

Minnesota hadn’t seen regular-season action with North Dakota since 2013.

Gophers forward Tommy Novak sneaks the puck around North Dakota on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers tied 5-5 against the Fighting Hawks.

Chris Dang

Gophers forward Tommy Novak sneaks the puck around North Dakota on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers tied 5-5 against the Fighting Hawks.

by Drew Cove

A highly-anticipated and turbulent rivalry series returned to Mariucci Arena for the first time since 2013 over the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint.

No. 13 Minnesota played to a 5-5 tie and a 2-0 shutout over the weekend to send the reigning national champion, the No. 3 North Dakota Fighting Hawks back to Grand Forks without a victory.

“It was [an] important weekend,” said head coach Don Lucia. “Starting with that road trip to win and tie [in New York], and to come back and win and tie again this weekend.”

On Friday, the Gophers were able to come back from four deficits they faced to ultimately tie the game at 5-5.

The hero of game one was forward Tommy Novak. He scored two goals Friday, which included the game-tying goal with 1:37 remaining in regulation.

“It was obviously really fun playing in this rivalry and getting to play in such a historic game,” Novak said.

Novak had the first of the four game-tying goals for the Gophers to make the score 2-2 near the end of the first period.

The emotions on the first night of the return of the storied rivalry were high and could be seen in the heavy, physical play.

Minnesota and North Dakota combined for 13 penalties in the first period — 11 of which were results of physical altercations after the whistle.

Minnesota ended up dominating in the shots department Friday with a 37-22 advantage.

Goaltender Eric Schierhorn allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced, but after North Dakota went up 2-0, the Gophers held the Fighting Hawks shot-less through the remainder of the period.

Schierhorn was much more composed Saturday night in front of 10,310 fans at Mariucci Arena.

The sophomore netminder recorded his fifth-career shutout and led Minnesota to a 2-0 victory.

“The history with Eric is when he’s had an off night in game one … he usually rebounds and plays really well,” Lucia said. “That’s kind of what he has done this year, so you’ve got to get him in the groove with that consistency and he’s a good goaltender, we certainly have a lot of confidence in him.”

To make matters better for Schierhorn, Gophers skaters blocked 25 North Dakota shots on top of the other 33 that the goalie already faced and denied.

Besides the two goals, Minnesota won the game by playing sound defense.

The game-winning goal came from forward Mike Szmatula halfway into the first period.

“I got the puck in the corner,” Szmatula said. “In my head I was going to take it to the net and I shot it as hard as I could. [It] probably [was] not a very good angle shot, but I think I caught him [North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson] off guard.”

The second goal — Lettieri’s second goal of the weekend — provided insurance for Minnesota.

The tension rose in Mariucci Arena with 40 seconds remaining in regulation, as North Dakota’s top scorer and Minnesota native Brock Boeser lined up for a penalty shot. Schierhorn denied the attempt.

“I felt confident,” Schierhorn said. “It was one of those games where I was in the zone, and I just tried to be aggressive, and it worked out.”

The Gophers finished the weekend with a boost in their non-conference record and morale.

“[I’m] just really happy for our guys [for] the way they played this weekend,” Lucia said.