As the University of Minnesoa hockey team found out Sunday, in college hockey teams really are only as good as their last game.
After defeating the University of Vermont 6-0 Friday night, the eighth-ranked Golden Gophers (4-1-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) suffered their first loss of the season; falling to the Catamounts 5-4 Sunday. Connor Brickley and Sebastian Stalberg scored two goals each for Vermont (1-1-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) as three goals in a three minute stretch late in the second period and undisciplined play proved to be the difference.
Things started off well for Minnesota as the maroon and gold got on the board first 12:18 into the game. Sophomore Justin Holl scored his first goal of the season - and only the second by a defenseman - on a low shot from the blue line.
The Gophers were able to control the pace for most of the first period as they out-shot the Catamounts 15-7 despite two Blake Thompson penalties, but momentum shifted in Vermont's favor late in the opening twenty minutes. Connor Brickley nearly tied the score after redirecting a rebound with his skate past goaltender Kent Patterson with 1:11 left in the period. However, the goal was waved off after being reviewed as referees determined he kicked it in.
Brickley finally tied the game 4:07 into the second period as the sophomore one-timed a pass from teammate Matt White. The goal ended Patterson's Mariucci shutout streak after three-plus games and 210 minutes going back to Minnesota's loss to Alaska-Anchorage in March.
Two quick goals by senior Jake Hansen and sophomore Nate Schmidt gave Minnesota a 3-1 lead. Hansen scored his third goal this season just twelve seconds after Vermont tied the game after tipping an Erik Haula shot. Schmidt followed up 5:26 into the period with his first goal as a Golden Gopher after he had a power play shot deflect off a Catamount defender past goaltender Rob Madore.
Despite the two goals, undisciplined play by the Gophers continued to put them in a hole they could not dig out. After being out-muscled and not showing up Friday, Vermont tried to be more physical Sunday and it paid off as the Gophers let them get under their skin. Minnesota was thrown off of their game and had 14 minutes of penalties in the second period. Many of them, including a double minor by Seth Ambroz where he committed two separate penalties on the same play and two retaliation minors, were unnecessary.
All those penalties finally took their toll on an over-extended Gopher penalty kill. While Minnesota was able to kill off the four minutes given to Ambroz, Connor Brickley and Sebastian Stalberg were able to score on Patterson with the man advantage. After going 0-6 Friday, Vermont finally was able to move the puck and get opportunities. Chris McCarthy added a goal thirty-seven seconds after Brickley's second goal and the Catamounts led 4-3 after two periods.
Stalberg's second goal 7:07 into the third period ended up being the difference as despite Kyle Rau's sixth goal of the year, Minnesota was unable to make a late comeback and ended up with a split in the two-game series.
In the end, Vermont was able to earn their first win of the season by overcoming the issues which plagued them Friday night. Madore shook off giving up five goals on nineteen shots and ended up with thirty-one saves, the defense cut back on the number of giveaways and the top Catamount forwards were able to get shots on net and scored all five goals after having six shots in the final two periods Friday.
Most importantly, by being physical and getting Minnesota off of their game, the Catamounts have showed other teams a gameplan for how to beat Minnesota.
The good news for the Gophers after Sunday's letdown is that like Vermont found out, there is always another game.
Gophers hockey returns to WCHA play next weekend (October 28-29) as Minnesota travels to Anchorage to face the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Both games start at 10 PM Central but will not be broadcast by Fox Sports North. They can be heard, however, on ESPN 1500.
SB Nation Minnesota's 3 Stars:
1. Connor Brickley [UVM] (2 goals)
2. Sebastian Stalberg [UVM] (2 goals)
3. Erik Haula [UMN] (3 assists, now tied for the national lead in college hockey with 14 points)