For one weekend at least, the University of Minnesota can claim to have the best offense AND defense in college hockey.
After massacring Sacred Heart 9-0 Friday night, the Gophers once again shut out the Pioneers 6-0 behind stellar goaltending by Kent Patterson and Erik Haula’s two goals. Patterson, who before this season had never recorded a shutout, now has two in two games.
Of course Sacred Heart is no Minnesota Duluth, the defending national champions and next week’s opponent, but with seven freshmen and redshirt sophomore Zach Budish returning from a season-ending ACL injury there’s nothing wrong with having a warmup.
Head coach Don Lucia said after the game, “it’s good to have these games to gain experience.”
Minnesota started the game sluggish as they were unable to control the flow of play and turned the puck over in their zone multiple times. The Gophers also failed to convert on a 3 on 1 opportunity and were being out-shot by Sacred Heart despite having and failing to score on a two minute 5 on 3 power play.
Momentum shifted back to Minnesota as freshman Sam Warning put the Gophers on the board with his second goal in as many nights. The Missouri native scored on the edge of the left crease 12:12 into the game off of a Jake Hansen rebound for the first of Hansen’s four assists. Erik Haula then made it 2-0 late in the period putting a laser past a stickless Sacred Heart goalie Andrew Bodnarchuk with forty seconds left.
The second period began with a missed fifty second power play opportunity but two goals in twenty-seven seconds by Ben Marshall and Taylor Matson, who roofed a backhand over Bodnarchuk on a breakaway, put the game out of reach for Sacred Heart at 4-0.
Minnesota’s power play has been a point of weakness this season, starting the year 1 for 9, but the Gophers were able to convert on two opportunities in the third period. Budish scored the first goal 5:32 into the period with assists by freshmen Warning and Nate Schmidt. Haula then completed off a third period in which the Gophers out-shot Sacred Heart 15-4 with his second goal of the night to complete the 6-0 shutout for Kent Patterson.
After the game, the Gophers goalie credited the defense stating he was surprised with the back check and effort from his teammates. Despite that, Patterson was a rock between the pipes stopping multiple grade A opportunities for the Pioneers.
Coach Lucia also praised Patterson’s performance, stating that “he has to be our backbone.”
With smaller defensemen like Aaron Ness and Cade Fairchild graduated, the larger defensive corps the Gophers have this year compared to recent season helps, but the key to this year’s team seems to be speed. Many of the freshmen like Warning, Kyle Rau and defensemen Ben Marshall (who is a ringer for Ness down to wearing his #10) have been able to use their speed and aggression to get to pucks and make plays,
There are plenty of positives to take away from this weekend with two shutout victories, but the real challenge for Minnesota starts next week. While the Gophers once again showed their depth with the first line only scoring one goal, special teams remains a pressing issue. The team also had a lapse in the second period losing 6 of 23 face-offs and weren’t able to control the game at times against a subpar Pioneers squad.
But one thing is for sure: starting the season with two shutouts and having the largest series goal differential in nine years is a great way to start the season.
The Gophers hit the road next weekend as they face the defending national champions the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs at Amsoil Arena. Both games start at 7 PM and are televised on Fox Sports North.