It's rare to see one team get twelve power plays in one night. It's rarer to see that team get three 5x3 penalties. What's even rarer is seeing the team which was that shorthanded go on and win.
That was the case for the University of Minnesota hockey team Saturday night, as the second-ranked Gophers fell to Northeastern (8-7-3, 4-7-2 Hockey East) 3-2 in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic. Minnesota (15-6-1, 11-3-0 WCHA) scored two shorthanded goals from Nate Condon and Taylor Matson but two 5x3 goals by Northeastern's Vinny Saponari and Garrett Vermeersch sandwiched by a Steve Qualier goal were too much to overcome as the Huskies went 2-12 on the power play.
The victory extends the Huskies' unbeaten streak to eight games in which they have gone 7-0-1.
Minnesota spent most of the opening period in the Northeastern zone and outshoo the Huskies 12-4 but couldn't get past Huskies goalie Chris Rawlings. Seth Ambroz had a couple chances in front of Rawlings, who made 31 saves and Joey Miller hit the post but Northeastern escaped the period tied at zero.
"No disrespect to the rest of the teams," said Huskies head coach Jim Madigan after the game. "I think [Rawlings] is the best goalie in Hockey East."
As great as both goalies were, the best save might have been made by Erik Haula. The sophomore forward dove in front of a backdoor shot to save Northeastern's best opening chance. Unfortunately, his actions also led to the Huskies' first goal.
Haula's hooking penalty 1:57 into the second period gave Northeastern 30 seconds with a two-man advantage - Seth Helgeson was in the box already for cross-checking - but the Huskies only needed 3. Vinny Saponari tied the game at 1 right off of the faceoff, bringing back the momentum to Northeastern after Minnesota's Nate Condon scored his second shorthanded goal of the year 55 seconds into the period.
The Gophers took four penalties in the first eleven minutes of the middle period but were able to kill them and keep Northeastern at bay. All that work ended up tiring out Minnesota to an extent and it showed on the second Huskies goal. Steve Qualier was unguarded on a turnover and was able to skate in from the half wall unguarded and shoot a backhander past Kent Patterson to give his team a 2-1 lead 5:38 into the second.
The lead allowed Northeastern to play conservatively and there were occasions when the Huskies had all five men in the slot. After scoring four even-strength goals last night against Niagara, Minnesota could not complete passes and there were not many tough even-strength saves for Rawlings to make.
"Northeastern is a fast team," Condon said when asked about the difference in even strength play from Friday to Saturday. "I felt like last night we had a lot more space to work and move around."
Despite the lack of even strength chances and undisciplined play, the Gophers gave themselves a chance to win in the third. Northeastern could not take advantage of Minnesota's march to the box, including a 34 second 5x3 opportunity and it took until there was one second left on another two-man advantage (the fifth Northeastern power play of the period) before Garrett Vermeersch scored the game-winning goal.
"We played so much shorthanded," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said, "we couldn't get any flow going. I'm disappointed we didn't give ourselves a chance to win five on five."
In the end, that's the difference. Taylor Matson got the Gophers within one with his sixth goal of the season but with 17.9 seconds left in the game, it was too little too late. Minnesota gave themselves a chance to win but not many teams are going to win when they take twelve penalties and play undisciplined hockey. Getting back Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau next weekend will help offensively but all the offense doesn't matter if the Gophers are spending most of the game losing their marbles and taking bad penalties.
Not many teams are going to win when killing 12 penalties. Teams like Minnesota can kill four or five but regardless of a successful period of shorthanded play and two goals with a man down, good teams will eventually score on the power play.
And unfortunately that cost them a chance to win the Mariucci Classic for the first time in four seasons.
Minnesota plays Notre Dame next Saturday in the Hall of Fame Game at Mariucci Arena. Game time is at 7 PM and will be broadcast on BTN. For more Gophers coverage be sure to check out The Daily Gopher and follow me on twitter @gopherstate.