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)