Three hat tricks highlight series sweep

Adam Fink

Half of the crowd at Mariucci Arena had yet to file in when Chris Harrington scored his first collegiate goal 12 seconds into Saturday night’s game.

For those late arrivals checking the scoreboard, it appeared as if Minnesota men’s hockey team was set for another rout of Alabama-Huntsville.

After posting an historical 12-1 win Friday night behind three, yes three hat tricks, the Gophers were brimming with confidence.

While Friday’s contest was one of Minnesota’s most dominating performances ever, Saturday’s was close until the end.

The announced crowd of 10,031 wasn’t able to breathe a collective sigh of relief until Matt DeMarchi’s even-strength goal at the 5:45 mark of the third period gave Minnesota (4-1-2, 1-0-1 WCHA) a two-goal lead and a 4-2 win.

However, this is the kind of game Don Lucia said he hoped for when the Chargers were put on the schedule. The fourth-year coach wanted a challenge for his young players and a chance to see how the team would perform in a close home game.

“This is what I expected,” Lucia said. “We had to work for it. We needed someone to step it up, and someone did.”

At the second intermission, Minnesota held the advantage in shots at 41-13, but the score was tied at two.

Alabama-Huntsville goaltender Scott Munroe was constantly under pressure, but to that point had stifled Minnesota.

“We wanted to play a defensive-orientated game,” Chargers coach Doug Ross said about his 0-6 club. “We knew if we got good goaltending, we would be in it at the end.”

In the locker room, Lucia talked about getting better shots and playing smarter.

The third period was a statement for the young guys and a chance for the older players to lead.

The 11 underclassmen played a tough, physical period, and the upperclassmen scored the decisive goals.

“We always want to win the third period,” said senior Nick Anthony, who scored the game-winner less than two minutes into the final period. “They gave us a test we were looking for. We can’t take anything for granted.”

That’s a sharp contrast from 24 hours before.

On Friday, Minnesota unveiled the 2002 NCAA title banner in an emotional pre-game ceremony that had Mariucci Arena the loudest it would be all weekend.

Then the Gophers went out and played like the defending national champions.

Junior Jon Waibel, who scored six goals in 91 games before Friday, netted his first career hat trick halfway through the second period.

The top-line of Thomas Vanek, Matt Koalska and Troy Riddle recorded 14 points, including hat tricks by Vanek and Riddle.

“It just feels good,” said Riddle, who didn’t receive a downpour of hats despite recording the second hat trick of the night. “It’s great for confidence.”

The trio of hat tricks was the first for a Minnesota squad since 1954. The 12 goals were the most by a Gophers team since 1986.

Goaltending over the weekend was a non-factor for Minnesota. Other than a shaky second period by Justin Johnson, neither goalie was really tested.

Johnson saved 20 shots Saturday, including two breakaways. Travis Weber started Friday and quietly saved 18 shots.

Waibel breaks hand

waibel, who has established himself on the penalty kill unit over his two-plus seasons at Minnesota, broke his right hand Friday night and will miss four to six weeks.

The injury, which won’t require surgery, occurred after the junior scored his third goal of the game in the second period and proceeded to pound the Plexiglas in celebration of his hat trick.

“Right away we thought he might have done something to it,” Lucia said. “But he was fine. On Saturday, his hand was hurting.

“It’s a shame because he was playing well.”

The injury is the third among Gophers forwards. Captain Grant Potulny and Barry Tallackson are also injured and won’t return before the new year.