Kent Patterson Making A Save (Photo Courtesy of Paul Rovnak)

Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Beats North Dakota 3-2; Sweeps Sioux

Minnesota and North Dakota square off for two games this weekend in one of the best rivalries in college hockey. Friday's game starts at 7PM on FSN with Saturday's at 7:30PM on BTN. For more Gophers coverage, check out The Daily Gopher.

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Holy Rau! Last Minute Goal Gives Gophers 3-2 Win And Sweep Over Sioux

Who doesn't love the Battle Hymn of the Republic?

The song, which is played by the Gophers band after any home sweep, came out Saturday night as the University of Minnesota hockey team beat the University of North Dakota 3-2 on a late Kyle Rau goal. The freshman scored with 46 seconds left as fifth-ranked Minnesota (8-1-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) rallied from a 2-1 third-period deficit and swept the Fighting Sioux (3-6-1, 1-5-0 WCHA) at home in the regular season for the first time since 1996.

Like Friday's game, Nick Bjugstad got Minnesota on the board first. The sophomore scored his eighth goal of the season as he took advantage of one of the bad Dell rebounds and pounded one home on the doorstep at 7:09.

However North Dakota was able to hang in early. Minnesota dominated outside of two penalties and Aaron Dell gave up multiple rebounds, but the Gophers and Sioux ended the first period tied at 1.

Several other Gophers, including Erik Haula, Seth Ambroz and Kyle Rau, had opportunities in front of Dell but were unable to get a clean shot past the North Dakota goaltender.  Despite the 19-5 shot advantage, the Fighting Sioux tied the game at 1 when Brock Nelson knocked the water bottle off (insert seconds) after an Ambroz penalty. The goal snapped Patterson's 99:26 shutout streak dating back to the second period of Saturday's Alaska-Anchorage game.

Minnesota came out flat in the second period as the North Dakota penalty kill, which had stopped the potent Maroon and Gold power play all series (going 14-15 on the top-ranked PP), stood tall as Minnesota could not take advantage. Despite the Gophers having most of the opportunities, Rocco Grimaldi was able to shine in his fourth college game and the freshman scored his first collegiate goal 8:39 into the second period. The religious Grimaldi celebrated his snipe by "Tebowing" and North Dakota responded by controlling play.

One thing which was stressed by Minnesota Coach Don Lucia after the game was the number of "dirty" goals by the Gophers. Normally Minnesota is a team which tries to score the fancy or pretty goal and North Dakota works for the rebound in front of the net; this weekend the roles were reversed.  

That was no better shown than in the two Gophers third period goals. Nick Larson started the Minnesota comeback 13:56 into the third period after the senior was in front of the net for a Travis Boyd pass. Larson's first goal of the season brought the Mariucci faithful (or the 75% who were wearing Maroon and Gold) back to life.

The Sioux, who spent most of the third period playing defensive hockey, were able to rev it up into fifth gear but Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson, as he has been all season, was phenomenal. Brock Nelson came inches away from scoring his second goal of the night on an odd-man rush only for Patterson to make a remarkable save; it was surprising enough that the North Dakota fans believed he had scored. That was preceded by the junior goaltender shutting down Mark MacMillan and Corban Knight on open looks.

"[Patterson's] on like that all year," said forward Nick Larson. "He's been given an opportunity and made the most out of it."

With Dell making saves of his own, Saturday's game looked to be heading to overtime. However, an unhinged Sioux net proved to make the game's biggest difference because a tired North Dakota team was unable to change their lines while the Gophers could. 

That meant Minnesota brought on their top guns: the Rau-Nick Bjugstad- Zach Budish line. With 46 seconds left, Budish was able to get the puck down low to Rau and he did what he's done all season: score within ten feet.

"[Rau] scored a lot of goals from that spot," said Lucia.

North Dakota deserves a lot of credit this weekend and were classy in defeat. While the series got chippy at times, as every Minnesota-UND series does, the Fighting Sioux were able to shut down the nation's best power play and they saw the emergence of Grimaldi and Brock Nelson to create a second scoring line. However, as the final seconds ticked away and it became clear to the 10,234 in Mariucci Arena that the Battle Hymn of the Republic would play once again.

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Minnesota celebrating a sweep of North Dakota (photo/Nathan Wells)

Next weekend Minnesota heads across the St. Croix to face their other major rival, the Wisconsin Badgers. Both games start at 7 PM with Friday's game being broadcast on Fox Sports North and Saturday's game broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

SB Nation Minnesota 3 Stars:

1. Kyle Rau (MIN)
2. Rocco Grimaldi (UND)
3. Nick Larson (MIN)

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Gophers Hockey: Defense Shines In 2-0 Minnesota Friday Win Over North Dakota

Nine games into the season and I think it's safe to say the Minnesota Golden Gophers are a good hockey team. Or at least they're making me smile.

After three consecutive seasons of missing the postseason, the Gophers are 8-1 (5-0-0 WCHA) with their latest victory, a 2-0 shutout over hated rival North Dakota (3-5-1, 1-4-0 WCHA). For a team which came into the game leading the nation in offense with 5.38 goals per game, it was the defense which shined Friday night. Nick Bjugstad and Tom Serratore scored for Minnesota as Kent Patterson made 24 saves and  tied Rob Stauber's single season record with his fifth shutout this year. He's done that in a month and now has a .945 save percentage while playing every minute this season.

The game took a while to start. For the second time all season, the dominant Gophers offense was shut out. Both teams took a while to warm up as nervous energy led to sloppy play and missed passes. However, Minnesota seemed to settle down after Erik Haula almost scored on a North Dakota giveaway and Andrew MacWilliams went off for slashing midway through the period. The Maroon and Gold were able to out-shoot UND 10-6 in the opneing twenty minutes but goaltender Aaron Dell stood tall between the pipes and did not allow Minnesota any rebounds despite six shots below the faceoff circle.    

Bjugstad's power play goal made it 1-0 Gophers with 7:16 left in the second  period after he took advantage of a 3x0 caused by defenseman Nate Schmidt hitting Sioux captain Mario Lamoureux twice with slap shots and shot it over Dell.

"I'm not sure what happened," the sophomore said, "but if I didn't score I'd catch heat from the guys."

"The guys" would have a good reason to give Bjugstad grief as Minnesota spent most of the second period catching up. Seth Ambroz put himself and the team in a bad position 30 seconds into the second period by receiving a well-deserved checking from behind penalty and game misconduct. 

The Gophers penalty kill, which came into the game killing 35 of 40 penalties, once again worked their magic. North Dakota was unable to get anything going in the five minute major and senior Taylor Matson had the two best opportunities for Minnesota. Freshman Kyle Rau also stepped up as a loud Mariucci crowd (the noisiest I can remember in a few years) went nuts after all five minutes were up.

"[Killing the 5 min major] was a huge momentum boost," said Kent Patterson after the game.

Gophers-Sioux series are known for their physical play and tonight's game did not disappoint. (List of players) were involved in three separate fights Patterson was ran over diving for a puck. By the end of the full metal mayhem, 5 North Dakota players and 4 Minnesota players were in the penalty box; causing for a humorous exchange when all left.

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4 separate fights over one play...or just another Minnesota-North Dakota series (Photo taken by Nathan Wells)

Despite Bjugstad's goal, Minnesota struggled at times on the power play. Much of the third period was spent trading off penalties and the two teams combined Friday night to go 1-14 with the man advantage. Just when it seemed like Aaron Dell and Kent Patterson would stop everything in sight, Nick Larson fed fourth-line forward Tom Serratore on a breakaway and the sophomore was able to get the puck past Dell for his first goal this season.

"It's nice to see a guy like Tom Serratore get rewarded," said Gophers head coach Don Lucia. "We played well and [for tomorrow] we need to continue to give ourselves a chance to win."

North Dakota had a couple late chances to ruin Patterson's fifth shutout - most notably junior Danny Kristo had a golden opportunity in front of the crease - but the Gophers were able to hold out and get the win. The Maroon and Gold may not have shown the offense which has won them games this season, but killing a five minute penalty, some great defense are traits which good hockey teams have. It's not easy to beat North Dakota, but Minnesota did.

And that brings a smile to my face.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers go for the sweep tomorrow night against the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Game time is at 7:30 PM Central and it will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. For more Gophers coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Gopher and for more college hockey coverage, check out Western College Hockey Blog.

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