With how things were going Saturday night, it was going to take a lot to get past St. Cloud State goalie Ryan Faragher. The freshman made 43 saves on 45 Minnesota shots but it was the 46th which gave the Maroon and Gold their first sweep since December 2-3 against Minnesota State.
Sam Warning scored the winning goal with 1:12 left after missing a chance earlier in the third period and the Gopher hockey team won 3-2 Saturday. Ben Marshall and Erik Haula also scored for Minnesota (19-9-1, 13-5-0 WCHA) while Ben Hanowski scored twice in a losing effort for St. Cloud State (10-14-4, 7-10-3 WCHA)
The win, coupled with Michigan Tech beating Minnesota Duluth 5-0, means the Gophers now have a five point lead in the WCHA over the Bulldogs. However, Minnesota Duluth has two games in hand.
The Huskies have been battling injuries all season and played two defensemen as forwards tonight because of an injury to Travis Novak Friday. Despite that and being outshot 14-5 in the first period, they led 1-0 at the end of the twenty minutes on a Hanowski goal with just over six minutes remaining.
The junior captain took advantage of an odd-man rush created after Nate Condon was hauled down with no penalty called and was able to get the puck past Gophers goalie Kent Patterson on a second effort.
Minnesota has been struggling lately with both their power play and scoring from the second line of Warning, Erik Haula and Jake Hansen and they were able to get help from both. Faragher looked like a man on a mission Saturday, having great positioning throughout the night and getting help from the crossbar. After Nick Oliver went off for hooking, however, Ben Marshall finally broke through with a slap shot from the blue line to tie the game at 1 8:29 into the second period.
Seven minutes later Minnesota took a 2-1 lead when Kyle Rau set up Haula for his 11th goal of the season. The goal, which came after Nick Bjugstad was hooked by Nic Dowd, gave the Gophers goals on consecutive power plays and were more goals with the man advantage than the last five games combined. Despite that, Ben Hanowski scored with 1:02 left in the second period from behind the net to tie the game at 2.
That looked to be the story of the game throughout the third period - Minnesota controlled the flow of play and got shots on Ryan Faragher while St. Cloud State scored twice on 12 shots - and wasn't helped by Taylor Matson hitting the post and an open net missed by Sam Warning. However Warning was able to go from potential scapegoat to hero when he ended up being the open man on an odd-man rush and did what he could not do before: score.
It was Warning's first goal since October 21st against Vermont and the difference, although Andrew Prochno came close in the last minute when his shot got past Patterson but hit the post.
Despite that, it was a great effort from the Gophers Saturday. While Faragher was hot enough to steal a game for the Huskies, Minnesota was able to keep the pressure on him and use their depth to their advantage. St. Cloud State looked gassed in the third, only mustering three shots on net, and were even outworked by the Gopher fourth line of Joe Miller, Christian Isackson and Nico Sacchetti. The defense continued to frustrate SCSU's offense and best of all, they found a way to win with yet another unexpected player stepping up.
From Nico Sachhetti last week to Sam Warning this week, everyone on the Gophers is capable of being a hero. The Huskies deserve credit for staying in the game but Minnesota was the better team Saturday and came away with a much needed sweep.
Minnesota is off next weekend but resumes WCHA play Friday and Saturday February 10-11 on the road against Denver. Friday's game starts at 8:30 CT and Saturday's starts at 8 PM while both are broadcast on Fox Sports North.
For more Gophers coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. For WCHA coverage, be sure to read Western College Hockey.