Senior goalie Kent Patterson (photo courtesy of Paul Rovnak)

Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Wins 3-2 Saturday; Sweeps Minnesota State

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Gophers Hockey: 3 Goal First Period Enough As Minnesota Sweeps Minnesota State

One of the things which Minnesota stressed last night was the need to start strong. With three goals in the first twenty minutes, it's safe to say mission accomplished.

Despite two goals by Zach Lehrke,  Minnesota (13-4-1, 10-2-0 WCHA) completed the weekend home sweep defeating Minnesota State (3-12-1, 2-9-1 WCHA) 3-2 Saturday. The Gophers only needed 2:37 to get on the board after Seth Ambroz scored his third goal of the season. With Zach Lehrke in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct, the freshman spent most of the ensuing two minutes camped in front of Mavericks goalie Austin Lee. That patience and second effort was rewarded with his first goal since the opening game of the season.

"It felt like getting a monkey off my back" said Ambroz

Linemate Taylor Matson added his second goal this weekend six minutes later as the senior captain fired a wrist shot over Lee's right shoulder to make it 2-0 Minnesota. Kyle Rau tacked on his 11th goal of the season with 1:19 left after receiving a cross-ice pass from Mark Alt on the doorstep.

Minnesota State had their own chances to keep pace but Gophers goaltender Kent Patterson turned away an early Justin Jokinen breakaway en route to 26 saves. It was one of five breakaway chances the Mavericks missed throughout the weekend, which Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting harped on after the game.

Besides breakaways, penalties became a major story in Saturday's game. The referees called 22 penalties between the two teams, which forced long stretches of special teams play.

"Special teams is huge...it's something which we practice a lot," said Matson.

Although the Mavericks went scoreless on three power play opportunities in the first period, their persistence was rewarded on the fourth. With Minnesota's Justin Holl in the box for cross-checking, Lehrke was able to sneak a slow shot past a couple defenders and Patterson to cut the lead to 3-1.

The stretches of penalty killing seemed to get to Minnesota as the night went on, but they still had their chances and out-shot the Mavericks 16-10 in the second period. Both Nate Schmidt and Kyle Rau each hit the post (or in Rau's case, both posts and a behind the back save by Lee) in the middle frame and Nate Condon missed an open net in the closing seconds of the second period buckled down defensively.

"We knew [Minnesota State] would come out physical," said Ambroz. "[It was something] that we needed to match."

The Mavericks cut into Minnesota's lead with Lehrke's second goal 4 minutes into the third period. With Kyle Rau in the box for a very questionable roughing penalty (one of many calls the announced crowd of 9,710 at Mariucci Arena did not agree with) and Jake Hansen sitting next to him, Minnesota State was able to get movement on the 90 second 5x3 and made it into a 3-2 game. Despite a few late charges, that was as close as they got as the Minnesota defense and special teams made the difference.

Like Friday, tonight's game was not pretty at times but the Gophers were able to get the job done. The penalties took them out of their first period rhythm but other factors like going 7-9 on the penalty kill ended up making a difference.

"We took two wins at home which is important to us," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "Now we need to go back to work on Monday."

Although the top three teams in the USCHO poll lost at least once this weekend - meaning the Gophers should move up into one of the top two spots - it is still too early in the season to rest on their laurels. Tonight's opening twenty minutes could be next week's penalty kill, but  the fact that the team recognizes there is work to be done is encouraging to see.

Minnesota hosts Michigan Tech next weekend at Mariucci Arena. Friday's game is at 7 PM Central while Saturday's game starts at 8 PM. Both games will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.  

SB Nation Minnesota's 3 Stars:
1. Taylor Matson UMN (1 goal, 1 assist)
2. Zach Lehrke MSU-M (2 goals)
3. Seth Ambroz UMN (1 goal, 1 assist)

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Haula-ow Victory - Gophers Beat Minnesota State Despite Sluggish Play

For the first time in a month, the Gophers hockey team has won a Friday night game. It just wasn't pretty.

Minnesota (12-4-1, 9-2-0 WCHA) spent the majority of the first forty minutes stuck in neutral before a third period rally pushed the Gophers ahead of Minnesota State 4-2 in Friday's series opener. Erik Haula scored his ninth goal of the season on the power play 4:51 into the third period to put Minnesota ahead 3-2 and the Gophers never looked back. 

"[Friday was] one of those nights where you have have to advantage of chances," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "Some night you have to find a way to win."

The Mavericks (3-11-1, 2-8-1 WCHA) played much better than their record showed behind the strength of freshman JP Lafontaine and senior goaltender Austin Lee's 26 saves. Although Lee and the Minnesota State defense shut down the Gophers' top line of Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish, the Maroon and Gold were able to buck a recent trend and score first.

Taylor Matson only needed 98 seconds to score his fourth goal of the season from just inside the right circle. Minnesota is 11-1 this season when scoring first,  has been an issue in the last three Friday night losses, and controlled most of the first five minutes. However, the Mavericks gained back momentum when a soft shot at the blue line by Evan Mosey somehow found its way past Gophers goaltender Kent Patterson to tie the game at 1.

It was a rare gaffe from the senior goalie, who finished with 26 saves, and one which gave Minnesota State life.

The Mavericks have won five of the last eight games against the Gophers and they showed why in the second period. Other than Nick Larson giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead early in the period, Minnesota State was the better team and out-shot them 11-5.

"You could see early on it was going to be that type of game," Lucia said.  "It was tight to the end."

Of course, having troubles in the second period has been a problem for the Gophers throughout their Friday slump and many of the mistakes made were self-inflicted. Minnesota took three penalties in the second period which were bad choices - including Sam Warning tripping a Maverick player in his own offensive zone - and gave the puck away on too many occasions.

After Patterson prevented Minnesota State freshman Max Gaede from scoring on an almost open net early in the period, the Mavericks eventually found their opening 9:28 into the second. With Warning in the box, JP Lafontaine tied the game at 2 right after Zach Palmquist was driven into Patterson and the net. Although the 9,542 fans in Mariucci made their displeasure known, the goal stood after a lengthy review.

It wasn't the only time the fans were upset with the referees, who were showered with boos as they exited, but given the Gophers' play in the second period they were in no position to be helping their cause after forty minutes.

However, Minnesota is as good in the third period as they are bad in the second. They have outscored their opponents 29-7 in the third period this season and Friday was no exception. Whether it is conditioning, patience or taking advantage of opportunities other teams don't, the Gophers know how to finish hockey games.

"We're a good third period team," said sophomore forward Erik Haula.

After surviving an early Minnesota State opportunitity in which Lafontaine shot wide after splitting two defenders on a power play, the Gophers took advantage of their fourth power play. With senior Michael Dorr (a former Gopher before transferring to Minnesota State) shooting high on a shorthanded opportunity, Minnesota came back down the ice where Haula gave the fifth-ranked Gophers the lead. 

"On their penalty kill [Minnesota State] takes a lot of chances," Haula said. "It works both ways and creates more room for us."

Jake Hansen added an empty netter goal for Minnesota to complete the third-period surge.

In the end, the Gophers came out of Friday with another hard-fought win and two points to remain on top of the WCHA with a 9-2-0 record. More than that, this team once again turned it on in the third period and won their first game on Friday since November 4th against North Dakota. Stopping that streak was important despite the style; as Haula said, "it kind of looked like a boring game."

It's hard to go that far - although no one will mistake Friday's contest as a classic - but two points ends up counting the same regardless of excitement.

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