What a difference 24 hours makes.
After losing their third straight game Friday, the Minnesota Golden Gophers responded in a big way Saturday with a 6-2 road win against North Dakota. Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon each scored twice for Minnesota, who were able to split the series with UND and take the season series three games to one.
With their win and Minnesota-Duluth breaking their 17 game unbeaten streak in a 3-1 loss to Nebraska-Omaha 3-1, Minnesota is once again tied with the Bulldogs atop the WCHA with 24 points.
The Gophers got out to a fast start, which was a great change of pace given the team's struggles in the first period throughout their three-game losing streak. Minnesota had twice as many shots on net in the opening twenty minutes and two of them by Bjugstad found the back of the net. The first came 2:37 into the game after Kyle Rau was able to pick up a Danny Kristo turnover and find his fellow Florida Panthers draft pick all alone in the offensive zone. Bjugstad's second goal came in the closing seconds of the period when North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell saved a Rau shot but kicked the rebound straight to Bjugstad.
Like Friday night's game-tying goal for North Dakota, the Gophers' last minute goal took away any momentum from UND and Minnesota was able to add another two goals before the shell-shocked home team knew what hit them. Seth Ambroz scored his fourth goal of the season 2:05 into the second period on a sharp angle shot which found its way past Dell and defenseman Nate Schmidt scored on a slap shot from the blue line to make it 4-0 Gophers 46 seconds later.
Although Schmidt is tied for the college hockey lead in assists with 24, it was his first goal since October 23rd against Vermont.
North Dakota eventually woke up and take advantage of a lull in Minnesota's play. Michael Parks and Kristo both scored for UND and made it 4-2 Gophers with 6:29 left in the second period to get back into the game.
However the Maroon and Gold responded with another last minute goal as Ambroz found Nate Condon with a nice play and the sophomore from Wassau shot one past Dell. Condon put the game completely out of reach with his third shorthanded goal of the season 4:12 into the third period.
Both teams continued playing physical, meanwhile, leading to a bad hit by Mark Alt inciting a brawl and UND's Ben Blood being involved in a pair of postgame fights (including this one with Kyle Rau in the handshake line). North Dakota is not afraid to go cheap when losing and it's just another memorable moment in a long line of Minnesota-North Dakota brawls.Regardless of their attempt to regain some face, the final score rightfully showed Minnesota dominating North Dakota.
All in all, it was a much needed win for Minnesota. Despite feeling like the team could have played better Friday, the Gophers were able to gain a split in one of the toughest buildings in the WCHA. Other than a lapse after the fourth goal, Minnesota's defense was outstanding all weekend and Kent Patterson stood tall Saturday making 24 saves. The team as a whole was much more physical Saturday and seeing both the first and third lines step up in play and score goals off of rebounds was much needed. It's only one game, but if this Minnesota team shows up more often, they can play with any team at any time.
Minnesota next plays eighth-ranked Colorado College Friday and Saturday from Mariucci Arena. Friday's game starts at 7:00 PM and Saturday's game starts at a special time of 5:00 PM due to Hockey Day Minnesota.