The end wasn't pretty for Minnesota but the end result was.
A.J. Michaelson and Tom Serratore's goals 70 seconds apart in the second period were too much for Vermont (2-7-2, 2-5-2 Hockey East) to overcome Saturday as the Gophers defeated them 3-1 at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Jacob Fallon scored the lone Catamount goal while freshman goaltender Brady Hoffman made 29 saves in defeat.
By winning Saturday, Minnesota (9-2-2, 4-2-2 WCHA) completed their first road sweep of the year and second overall.
Both teams had power play chances in a whistle-happy yet scoreless first period. Minnesota was unsuccessful in a 1:05 stretch where both Nick Bruneteau and H.T. Lenz were in the penalty box, their third time failing to score on 5x3 in four games. Vermont, meanwhile, did not take advantage of two power play chances and both teams ended the night a combined 0-9 with the man advantage.
Despite being unable to score in the opening 20 minutes, the Gophers were able to create opportunities. Hoffman made a couple quality saves during even strength play and the team ended the first period with a 15-8 shot advantage.
"I thought (Hoffman) played better and we anticipated that," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "He made some big saves at key times, which you're going to want from your goaltender. They did a good job on the penalty kill. It was a hard fought game all night long and that's what we expected."
That continued into the second period when defenseman Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) drew a Vermont defender away from the goal and he was able to slip the puck against the grain to Serratore. The Gopher forward shot it home for his third goal of the season and a 1-0 lead 2:49 in the second period.
Just over a minute later, Michaelson doubled the lead when he connected on a pass from Travis Boyd. It was his first collegiate goal and came a night after the freshman's first career assist. Rather than spend time at center like he had earlier in the season, A.J. spent the weekend as a wing and played better there.
Vermont did not give up in spite of being down two goals and ended up pushing the pace in the third period. Although Caylen Walls took an early penalty for hitting from behind, the Catamounts pushed the pace on the ensuing penalty kill to not allow Minnesota anything. When Kyle Rau ended up taking a penalty of his own, they only needed 21 seconds of 4x4 time to score. Both Yvan Pattyn and Chris McCarthy swarmed Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox and Fallon was right behind them to clean up the mess with 15:45 left in the game.
They were not done and Wilcox, who made 26 saves Saturday, was forced to make his toughest saves of the night. Minnesota spent a couple 60-90 second stretches trapped their own end and unable to change lines; something that rarely happens to the Golden Gophers. Chalk it up to having to kill penalties, illness (Nick Bjugstad spent the week sick with the flu) or Vermont getting the home crowd behind them but they played their best stretch of hockey during the final fifteen minutes of the game.
It wasn't enough for the Catamounts, however, and despite pulling Hoffman for a final push, Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) was able to score the empty-netter for Minnesota with 54 seconds left.
While the third period kept the Gophers from getting the complete 60 minute game that has eluded them since opening weekend, they were able to get secondary scoring and a road sweep against a non-conference foe. They'll take that regardless of beauty.
Minnesota next plays Nebraska-Omaha Friday November 30 and Saturday December 1 at Mariucci Arena. Both games start at 7 p.m. CT on Fox Sports North.
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