After a close first period Friday night, fourth-ranked Minnesota (8-2-2, 4-2-2 WCHA) scored three goals in the second to take control of the game and defeat Vermont (2-6-2, 2-5-2 Hockey East) 5-1 at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Five different players scored for the Gophers - including a goal and an assist for Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers), Kyle Rau (Panthers) and Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) - along with a trio of milestones.
Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 22 saves for the victory. His Vermont freshman counterpart, Brady Hoffman, faced 35 shots Friday and saved 30.
Seth Ambroz started the scoring for the Gophers 7:52 into the game when he drove to the net and beat Hoffman with a backhand for his fourth goal of the year. It capped an opening stretch that saw the team hit two posts (one each by Nate Condon and A.J. Michaelson) and kill a penalty. The lead wouldn't stand, however, as Brett Bruneteau tied the game for the Catamounts eight minutes later.
It was a moment that Minnesota has seen happen often in the first 12 games of the season. Despite controlling the tempo of the game and getting more opportunities, they would end the period tied or down a goal.
But not this time. If anything, the puck luck pendulum swung the other way with 90 seconds left in the first.
After defenseman Nick Bruneteau swatted the puck off the back of the goal cage directly to Zach Budish, the junior redshirt captain found Rau in front of the net to give the team a lead the Gophers would never relinquish.
"The guys stayed with it and we made a lot of nice plays in the second period and scored some goals. So it's nice to see," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said after the game.
They found the back of the net three times in the middle frame while out-shooting Vermont 17-5. Budish scored the first goal 2:26 into the second, breaking a 1-12 power play streak stretching over the last seven periods. He was followed by Bjugstad, who scored on a breakaway coming straight out of the penalty box, and defenseman Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) to make it 5-1.
The goal was the first collegiate one of Reilly's career. He was joined by A.J. Michaelson and Wilcox, who each got their first career points Friday on assists, in career milestones.
As a whole, the Gophers played well Friday. While there were some issues - Bjugstad took three separate penalties - it was one of their more complete performances. Minnesota controlled play as the game went on, putting up 35 shots on goal, did not trail and were consistent on both even strength and special teams. It wasn't one or the other. With Vermont going 0-4, they've now killed 17 of their last 18 penalties.
More importantly, with the win, the Gophers are 4-0 in non-conference play.
Minnesota and Vermont play again Saturday at 6 p.m. CT on Fox Sports North.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate