Friday was a good night to be a Gophers fan. Well, unless you were Culver’s.
For the third time in three home games, Minnesota (5-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) scored five or more goals and sent the Mariucci faithful home with a free frozen custard as the Gophers beat the Vermont Catamounts 6-0. In fact, it’s the first time since 2001-2002 that the maroon and gold have scored five straight goals in their first five games.
Of course, most Gophers fans know what happened that season as Minnesota went on win a national title.
Minnesota once again got off to a quick start with Kyle Rau scoring his fifth goal this season just 44 seconds into the game. That was followed by fellow freshman Sam Warning’s third goal three minutes later. Both goals were created by Jake Hansen’s tireless play as the senior was able to force giveaways in the Catamount zone and cycle the puck.
The Gophers were undisciplined after their early barrage of goals with the team taking three penalties in the last ten minutes of the first period. Minnesota’s penalty kill, which has been outstanding all season, killed all three and Nick Bjugstad took advantage of a rare even strength stretch to give Minnesota a 3-0 first period lead. The sophomore from Blaine scored a wrister that went between the legs of Vermont goalie Rob Madore with 4:34 left in the period.
“Our defense improved from last weekend and had better gap play” said Gophers head coach Don Lucia after the game, who was pleased with how the defense and penalty kill played.
Taylor Matson gave Minnesota a 4-0 lead as he scored off of a cross-ice pass from Nate Condon 7:20 into the second period. Bjugstad then chased Madore, who gave up five goals on nineteen shots, from the game with his second goal of the night; a one-timer from a Kyle Rau pass.
“We didn’t know much about [Vermont] but our team wanted to keep from having a letdown,” said Bjugstad.
Zach Budish, the linemate of Bjugstad and Rau, completed the scoring by getting the lone Gophers power play goal with 6:07 left in the second. Budish’s goal was helped by freshman Seth Ambroz creating space and drawing a Catamount defender away from Zach.
Vermont was unable to create any offense throughout the game and made it easy for junior goaltender Kent Patterson to record his third shutout of the season. Mariucci’s Olympic-size ice sheet is rare in Hockey East and the Catamounts struggled to maintain any flow.
Like the Bulldogs last weekend, Vermont struggled to get any shots from within the face-off circle. They only managed six shots in the final two periods and could not get a shot on goal in their last four power play opportunities.
When asked about maintaining composure while facing such few shots, Patterson discussed his techniques for keeping concentrated on the game; including talking to himself.
The Catamounts, who were picked to finish sixth in Hockey East, had some bright spots in the third period. Sophomore goalie Alex Vazzano was able to hold the Gophers scoreless in a period for the first time all season. He also withstood three Minnesota power plays and put himself in position to start Sunday’s game between the two teams.
The two teams got in a scuffle following the final whistle when former North Dakota forward Brett Bruneteau and the Gophers’ Jake Hansen got into it after a slash. Hansen was coy about it after the game but the action and frustration from Vermont should lead to an interesting rematch.
Or as interesting as a 6-0 Gophers victory can lend itself.
The two teams meet again at Mariucci Arena Sunday at 1 PM. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North so those watching the Vikings-Packers will have an option to watch Minnesota try to make it 4 for 4 with the Culver’s promotion.
SB Nation Minnesota’s 3 Stars:
1. Nick Bjugstad (2 goals)
2. Kent Patterson (17 saves)
3. Jake Hansen (2 assists and made the plays which set the pace of the game)
HM: Kyle Rau, Zach Budish