In a weekend that was anything but easy, the University of Minnesota found a way to give head coach Don Lucia his 600th career win Saturday night.
Seth Ambroz (Columbus Blue Jackets) scored twice, including the game winner with 3:35 left in regulation, as the top-ranked Golden Gophers (3-1-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) defeated Michigan Tech (2-2-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) in Houghton to split their two game series. Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) added his third of the season while Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 16 saves for Minnesota.
Pheonix Copely made 31 saves for the Huskies in a losing effort.
Unlike Friday night, Minnesota came out buzzing in the first period and forced the home team to play on their heels. The Huskies took as many penalties in the first fifteen minutes than they did in the series opener and the Gophers were coming close in their chances. Their defensive pairings, which were reverted back to last year's, played with that chemistry. Michigan Tech still had a couple odd-man chances but it was nowhere near the opportunities they created for themselves Friday.
However, it took until Ambroz got the puck in a scramble and powered it past Copely with 2:15 left in the first period before Minnesota's effort were shown on the scoresheet. The goal was huge for them because it was their first lead of the weekend and the team needed something tangible for their effort.
Michigan Tech, meanwhile, tied the game at one 6:18 into the second period when Chad Pietila found his way around defenseman Mike Reilly (Blue Jackets) and past Wilcox. Their celebration lasted all of 11 seconds, though because Tanner Karo was called for boarding Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers). That was just par for the course Saturday. The Huskies at times were threatening Minnesota but could not stop taking penalties.
Fortunately for Michigan Tech, however, the Gophers went 0-5 with the man advantage. There were a few opportunities Saturday, including Nick Bjugstad (Panthers) hitting the post, but they have only scored on 3 of 18 power plays this season.
Despite not scoring on power plays, Minnesota continued to threaten Copely even-strength and re-took the lead when Haula sniped a wrister past him midway through the second period. Minnesota now is a remarkable 15-1-1 over the past two years when Haula scores a goal.
It looked like the Gophers would once again take the lead into the locker room but a shot by Ryan Furne with 57 seconds left went off of Bjugstad and into the Minnesota net. Furne's first goal of the year was a huge momentum swing for the Huskies into the third period.
Both teams were cautious yet had chances late to win the game before Ambroz became the hero. With 3:35 left in regulation, junior Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) hit Ambroz with a tape to tape pass and the sophomore shot one past Copely to put Minnesota ahead for the third time. Wilcox stood tall on a point-blank chance by Michigan Tech late - a big moment for the freshman and further setting himself apart from fellow goalie Michael Shibrowski - and the Gophers held on to win their first WCHA game of the season.
Minnesota next plays the U.S. Under-18 team Friday at 7 p.m. CT and Canisius Sunday at 1 p.m. CT. Friday's game will not be televised while Sunday's will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.
You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate