Minnesota Goalie Kent Patterson Making a Save (photo courtesy of Paul Rovnak)

Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Avoids Late Scare To Sweep Duluth

With the Gophers coming off a sweep of Sacred Heart, Minnesota marches to Duluth to face the defending national champion Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs at Amsoil Arena Friday and Saturday.

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Gophers Hockey: Duluth's Late Charge Falls Short As Minnesota Wins 5-4

Saturday's game was not pretty at times but the end result remains the same: the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team has started the season 4-0. Kyle Rau's third power play goal of the weekend with 9:58 left in the game proved to be the difference as the Gopher hockey team survived a late charge to defeat the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs 5-4 and earn their first sweep in Duluth since 2000.

While Kent Patterson once again proved to be the difference for Minnesota by making 46 saves, the Gophers had a bit of luck on their side. After the Bulldogs built a 2-0 lead seven minutes in to the game on goals by Travis Oleksuk and Jack Connolly, Minnesota somehow ended the first period tied at two. This was despite only taking four shots on net and having a Brady Lamb shot get past Kent Patterson and ring off the right post. One of those shots, which was the second Minnesota goal, ended up being credited to Nate Condon after a shot went wide, was misplayed by Duluth goalie Kenny Reiter and bounced off of a Bulldog skate into the net.

Special teams also made a difference in the game as Minnesota went 3 for 3 on the power play and killed five of six penalties. Jake Hansen scored the Gophers' first goal 12:05 into the period on a slap shot from the high slot after David Grun was sent off for interference while Nate Condon and freshman Kyle Rau each got a goal on the man advantage as part of five consecutive Minnesota goals.

The Gophers have now scored five or more goals in each game this season and lead college hockey in goals per game. Despite Minnesota's' offense only putting up 16 total shots on goal in front of an Amsoil Arena record crowd of 6,784, they were almost all grade A opportunities; especially compared to the dozens of Bulldogs shots from the perimeter.

However in spite of the Gophers having a 5-2 lead, Minnesota Duluth was not going away quietly. As good as Minnesota was on special teams tonight, their young defense was shaky. Five of the six defensemen are underclassmen and on the second night of a back-to-back they were prone to turn the puck over and give the defending national champions their best chances of the night. Nate Schmidt's giveaway led to Oleksuk's first goal while Seth Helgeson made a lazy pass that sophomore J.T. Brown buried past Patterson to bring the Bulldogs within one with 4:05 left.

At the end of the game the Gophers held off multiple Minnesota Duluth scoring opportunities in the final minute to win as several Minnesota players blocked shots. Although their comeback came short, the Bulldogs played well all weekend and have a lot to take out of both games. Freshman Caleb Herbert played extremely well both games this weekend and at times was the best player on the ice while Brown and Connolly continue to be dangerous for Duluth. There's a reason why Minnesota Duluth came into the weekend ranked ninth in the country and it showed.

While no one should be completely happy about the win given the play of the defense, sweeping the defending national champions on the road despite giving up 100 shots is a great early season accomplishment. Many of the underclassmen like Nate Condon and Kyle Rau were outstanding and in the end, Minnesota did what they came to do this weekend: earn four points and make the statement that Gopher hockey is back.

Next weekend, the University of Vermont Catamounts visit Mariucci Arena for the first time Friday and Sunday. Both games start at 7:05 PM and will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.

SB Nation Minnesota's 3 Stars of the Game
1. Nate Condon (2 goals, 1 assist)
2. Kent Patterson (46 saves and faced 100 shots this weekend)
3. Nick Bjugstad (even-strength goal, 2 assists and played well on both ends of the ice)

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Gophers Hockey: Nate Condon's Overtime Goal Caps Off 5-4 Comeback Win

It’s been said before that good teams find ways to win games. Well folks, the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team found a way to win a dandy on the road in Duluth.

After Minnesota Duluth’s Justin Crandall scored with two minutes left in the third period to make it 4-3 Bulldogs, it appeared to complete a two goal comeback for the #9 ranked Bulldogs. The fans at Amsoil Arena were going nuts and my Twitter feed was starting to get filled with the usual anti-Gophers remarks when they lose.

That all changed 1:16 later when Erik Haula scored his second goal of the night to tie the game at 4. The goal, which deflected off of a Bulldog skate, brought momentum back to Minnesota. Although Minnesota Duluth had a couple chances in overtime due to a Nate Schmidt giveaway in front of the net, it was an ill-advised no look pass by the Bulldogs which resulted in Condon batting in the winning goal out of mid air with 57 seconds left in the game.

The #14 ranked Gophers did not look out of place against the defending national champions. They came out strong in the first period and were able to be physical and use their speed to create penalties. Despite only going 3 for 11 on the power play against Sacred Heart, special teams made the difference as Haula and Kyle Rau scored power play goals to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.

Haula’s first goal came 4:55 into the game when he took a Nate Schmidt pass and shot a laser from the right circle. The second goal wasn’t as pretty as Rau scored on the doorstep after a 5×3 expired for Minnesota.

Going 2 for 3 on the power play and killing a penalty at the end of the first period was the difference for the Gophers as the Bulldogs had a couple opportunities. Unfortunately momentum shifted after the penalty, a Seth Helgeson double minor for roughing, and Minnesota Duluth took over in the second period.

Kent Patterson’s 145 minute shutout streak to start the season ended when Caleb Herbert underssed Ben Marshall with a deke and shot one past the Gophers goalie. The Bulldogs tied the game up a minute later after a questionable checking from behind penalty for Zach Budish (which carries a five minute major and an ejection from the game) but things evened up after Luke McManus received the same penalty. Rau then scored his second power play goal, which was similar to the first goal, at 10:59 before defenseman Drew Olson scored his first goal of the season late in the period to tie the game at 3.

As good as Minnesota looked at times, they cannot afford to have too many second periods like Friday. The Bulldogs carried momentum the entire period outside of killing penalties and were able to outwork the Gophers at their game. Despite the chippy nature of the game, Minnesota Duluth forechecked hard and forced the young Minnesota defenseman to make bad decisions. Ben Marshall, Justin Holl and Nate Schmidt all had terrible giveaways and were unable to get to pucks they did against Sacred Heart.

However it was exciting to see the Gophers be physical and throw their bodies around. The lack of physical play has been one of the biggest knocks on Minnesota over the last few years and one method teams have used to beat them. That is not the case this year and between the physical play and Nate Condon completing a comeback on the road, this year’s Minnesota team is finding ways to win which recent teams wouldn’t.

Saturday’s game starts at 7 PM and will be aired on Fox Sports North alternate channel. Check your local cable or satellite for the channel or see the list here. If Friday night was any indication, the bad blood and ninety-four combined shots between Gophers and Bulldogs players should make for an exciting game two.

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