Sophomore Forward Nick Bjugstad (Photo Courtesy Gophers Athletics/Paul Rovnak)

Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Beats St. Cloud State 3-2 Saturday; Sweeps Huskies

For more Gophers coverage, check out The Daily Gopher.

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Gophers Hockey: Warning Comes Through When It Matters As Minnesota Wins 3-2

With how things were going Saturday night, it was going to take a lot to get past St. Cloud State goalie Ryan Faragher. The freshman made 43 saves on 45 Minnesota shots but it was the 46th which gave the Maroon and Gold their first sweep since December 2-3 against Minnesota State.

Sam Warning scored the winning goal with 1:12 left after missing a chance earlier in the third period and the Gopher hockey team won 3-2 Saturday. Ben Marshall and Erik Haula also scored for Minnesota (19-9-1, 13-5-0 WCHA) while Ben Hanowski scored twice in a losing effort for St. Cloud State (10-14-4, 7-10-3 WCHA)

The win, coupled with Michigan Tech beating Minnesota Duluth 5-0, means the Gophers now have a five point lead in the WCHA over the Bulldogs. However, Minnesota Duluth has two games in hand.

The Huskies have been battling injuries all season and played two defensemen as forwards tonight because of an injury to Travis Novak Friday. Despite that and being outshot 14-5 in the first period, they led 1-0 at the end of the twenty minutes on a Hanowski goal with just over six minutes remaining.

The junior captain took advantage of an odd-man rush created after Nate Condon was hauled down with no penalty called and was able to get the puck past Gophers goalie Kent Patterson on a second effort.

Minnesota has been struggling lately with both their power play and scoring from the second line of Warning, Erik Haula and Jake Hansen and they were able to get help from both. Faragher looked like a man on a mission Saturday, having great positioning throughout the night and getting help from the crossbar. After Nick Oliver went off for hooking, however, Ben Marshall finally broke through with a slap shot from the blue line to tie the game at 1 8:29 into the second period.

Seven minutes later Minnesota took a 2-1 lead when Kyle Rau set up Haula for his 11th goal of the season. The goal, which came after Nick Bjugstad was hooked by Nic Dowd, gave the Gophers goals on consecutive power plays and were more goals with the man advantage than the last five games combined. Despite that, Ben Hanowski scored with 1:02 left in the second period from behind the net to tie the game at 2.

That looked to be the story of the game throughout the third period - Minnesota controlled the flow of play and got shots on Ryan Faragher while St. Cloud State scored twice on 12 shots - and wasn't helped by Taylor Matson hitting the post and an open net missed by Sam Warning. However Warning was able to go from potential scapegoat to hero when he ended up being the open man on an odd-man rush and did what he could not do before: score.

It was Warning's first goal since October 21st against Vermont and the difference, although Andrew Prochno came close in the last minute when his shot got past Patterson but hit the post.

Despite that, it was a great effort from the Gophers Saturday. While Faragher was hot enough to steal a game for the Huskies, Minnesota was able to keep the pressure on him and use their depth to their advantage. St. Cloud State looked gassed in the third, only mustering three shots on net, and were even outworked by the Gopher fourth line of Joe Miller, Christian Isackson and Nico Sacchetti. The defense continued to frustrate SCSU's offense and best of all, they found a way to win with yet another unexpected player stepping up.

From Nico Sachhetti last week to Sam Warning this week, everyone on the Gophers is capable of being a hero. The Huskies deserve credit for staying in the game but Minnesota was the better team Saturday and came away with a much needed sweep.

Minnesota is off next weekend but resumes WCHA play Friday and Saturday February 10-11 on the road against Denver. Friday's game starts at 8:30 CT and Saturday's starts at 8 PM while both are broadcast on Fox Sports North.

For more Gophers coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. For WCHA coverage, be sure to read Western College Hockey.

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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota Gets Friday Monkey Off Back; Defeats St. Cloud 2-1

Sometimes it takes one small play to break out of pattern. That happened for the University of Minnesota tonight and for the first time since December 30th against Niagara, the Gophers won a Friday night hockey game.

Jake Hansen and Nick Bjugstad scored for Minnesota (18-9-1, 14-5-0 WCHA) and the third-ranked Gophers defeated St. Cloud State (10-13-4, 7-9-3 WCHA) 2-1 at Mariucci Arena.

"It was a hard-fought game like they all are in the second half," said Gophers head coach Don Lucia. "It doesn't matter how you win. We just needed to get the two points."

For most of the first period, however, it looked like the Minnesota that has gone 2-7 in their last nine Friday night games was back. The Gophers struggled early on, looking slow and getting beat to the puck by St. Cloud State to the point where returning Huskies goaltender Mike Lee, playing his first game since October 22nd, could have read a book.

Minnesota only put one shot on net in the first ten minutes while SCSU made senior goalie Kent Patterson work hard. His biggest save, a diving sprawl to his left on a 2 on 1 chance by David Eddy, kept the game scoreless.

Things started to turn around for Minnesota about a minute later when a pinch in by Nate Schmidt that sprung an opportunity for Travis Boyd. He was unable to do anything but it was the play that gave Minnesota momentum and they began to create more opportunities against Lee, who made 24 saves in Friday's game. Eventually Jake Hansen was rewarded on a 2 on 1 of his own with Erik Haula and with 6:34 left in the first period scored his first goal since December 30th (coincidentally the last time that line has scored an even-strength goal).

The goal was reviewed after it went off of Hansen's shin past Lee but was eventually ruled in Minnesota's favor for a 1-0 lead.

"I was a little nervous," said Hansen about the review. Obviously it took a while. I didn't know what they were looking for like goalie interference or if I kicked it in."

St. Cloud State was able to tie things up early in the second period. After Tom Serratore was called for cross-checking in the Huskies' offensive zone 2:42 into the period, captain Ben Hanowski scored his 13th goal of the season on a laser that beat Patterson 95 seconds later.This came a few seconds after a previous Hanowski shot hit the post.

"Kent played really good," said Nick Bjugstad after the game. "[St. Cloud State] only had 13 shots but he made some great saves."

However that was the only shot on goal St. Cloud State had for most of the period and Patterson, who made 12 saves Friday, became the one who didn't have to do much. It helped that Minnesota once again found their focus on blocking shots and forcing the Huskies to really work to create scoring chances when not spending 90 seconds trapped in their own zone.

"That (blocking shots) is something we've gotten away from what worked in the first eleven games of the year," said Hansen.

Fittingly, it was a defensive play by freshman Kyle Rau that led to the winning goal. Rau was able to take advantage of the turnover and find a streaking Jake Hansen to create a 2 on 1 with Bjugstad. The sophomore buried Hansen's pass for his 21st goal of the season and give the Gophers a 2-1 lead with 8:11 left in the second period.

"[Lee] had good vision tonight," said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko. "It was the two turnovers, the two odd-man rushes which was the difference tonight. I thought the key (for Minnesota) was all the shots blocked."

The third period was fairly low key with neither team peppering the other after St. Cloud State forward Travis Novak went down awkwardly into the boards and had to be helped off the ice. The extent of the injury was not known following the game, only that it was a "lower body injury." The Huskies were already shorthanded this weekend and never found a groove afterwards despite being down by one.

St. Cloud State was only able to get one shot on goal in the final twenty minutes in spite of Minnesota taking two late penalties. The Gophers had a chance to take a 3-1 lead late in the game but Nate Condon's attempt for a fifth shorthanded goal (which would have tied Austin Smith of Colgate for the most in college hockey) hit the post with 1:20 left. The Huskies pulled their goalie but for the second consecutive game (and third with the same score), Minnesota was able to hold on for a 2-1 win.

In the end, it wasn't the prettiest game Minnesota played this season - in fact it felt more like a road win - but they were able to return to some of the things which helped propel them to nine wins in their first ten games.

"We need to do those little things. We did some of those tonight and need to do more of those tomorrow," said Lucia.

With the second line returning to the score sheet, players giving up their bodies to block shots and the team finding a way to win a game on Friday tonight was a good effort from the Gophers. Things started to take off once they did the little things, including Schmidt's effort to pinch in halfway through the first, it made Minnesota that much tougher to beat.

Minnesota goes for the sweep Saturday as they finish up their home-and-home series with St. Cloud State finish up at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North and streamed on 95.3 Praise FM.

Other notes:
-The 3 stars tonight were 1) Jake Hansen 2) Nick Bjugstad and 3) Ben Hanowski
-Attendance was 10,088 Friday, marking the fourth consecutive sellout at Mariucci Arena this season.
-Following the game, St. Cloud State head coach Motzko said that freshman Ryan Faragher will likely start Saturday's game after sitting for Lee Friday.

For more Gophers coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. For WCHA coverage, follow Western College Hockey Blog.
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