After Friday night’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Denver Pioneers, Minnesota was the team looking for an answer, and as such, the Gopher coaching staff had to rattle cages and rearrange deck chairs for Saturday. Even the goaltending matchup would change slightly, as Denver started Sam Brittain in place of Juho Olkinoura. Minnesota went with Adam Wilcox again on Saturday.
The fisticuffs started early, as the end of a play at the Denver net resulted in coincidental minor penalties at 1:10 to Denver’s Josiah Didier and Minnesota’s Kyle Rau were assessed roughing minors. Other than those first two penalties, the game started rather slowly. At 1:40, Minnesota’s Jake Parenteau gave Denver its first power play on a tripping call.
The Pioneer power play took some time in setting up, and finally struck on the power play at 3:34. Scott Mayfield was assisted by Chris Knowlton and Paul Phillips in his effort which gave Denver a 3-0 lead on the weekend after sixty-four minutes played.
Early on, shots were 5-5 but it was clear that Denver was outplaying Minnesota at every possible point through the first seven minutes. Another key point that was monitored through the first twenty minutes was the rebound control issues that Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox had. There were at least two or three different instances in the first twenty minutes where Wilcox didn’t have solidified control of the puck.
As the first fifteen minutes elapsed, shots were 12-10 in favor of Minnesota, though it didn’t seem like it at times. Down the stretch, Gopher fans erupted a few times, and the loudest eruption occurred when Nolan Zajac was sent to the box for cross-checking. Minnesota’s first power play of the night came at 17:22. It abruptly ended as a penalty was called at 18:31, with Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad called for hooking. Fifty-two seconds of four on four play translated into Denver’s sixty-eight second abbreviated power play at the end of the first period.
After twenty minutes, Denver led 1-0, with shots going Minnesota’s way 15-11. Minnesota was 0-1 on power plays with Denver 1-1 on completed power plays.
The second period started successfully for Minnesota, who killed off the rest of the penalty to Bjugstad from the opening stanza. Minnesota got its second power play at 2:13 of the second when Scott Mayfield took a trip to hockey jail for elbowing.
At 3:39, Minnesota’s power play ended when the Gophers were assessed a bench minor for having too many men on the ice. Denver’s abbreviated power play thought there was a goal at 5:11, but the goal making the game 2-0 was waved off via a high stick. As such, the Pioneer power play came up empty, leaving us with a one-goal game at twenty-six minutes played.
As the halfway point came and went, Denver’s goaltender was like the Sam Brittain of old, but not for long. At 9:03, Minnesota tied the game when Zach Budish lit the lamp on even strength. Sam Warning and Erik Haula assisted Budish on the first Gopher goal of the weekend.
The race as the middle of the second period dragged on was for the second goal, which seemed elusive to find. Shots at the holy grail attached to each net favored the Gophers at thirty-two minutes by a 28-18 count.
At 12:47, Denver’s Scott Mayfield would go to the box for holding, giving Minnesota their third power play of the night. Minnesota was slow and steady like the tortoise in its setup, but Denver’s penalty kill didn’t allow the Gophers to take the lead. Shortly thereafter, at 15:56, Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad was called for tripping. Denver was awarded their fourth power play of the night.
The Pioneers, much like the kid who can’t do fractions that we referenced last night, struggled to find its form.
At the end of forty minutes, and after some up and down rushes to end the second period, the score was still tied at one. Shots were 32-23 to Minnesota, who was 0-3 on power plays. Denver was 1-4.
At 1:26 of the third period, the first major pop of the game occurred as Denver's Chris Knowlton collided with Jake Parenteau on a play in front of the Denver net. It was thought that Knowlton separated his shoulder but as of this writing, there was no official report on Knowlton's condition.
At the 45:35 mark, shots on goal totaled sixty, and Minnesota had the 35-25 commanding edge. Late in the going, it appeared as though the second goal would win it, much like on Friday night, but we still didn't know who would get that elusive goal.
At the 8:45 mark of the third period, Denver's Nick Shore was called for interference. The penalty gave Minnesota its fourth power play of the night. Nick Bjugstad cracked the whip at 9:52, giving the Gophers the lead. Bjugstad was assisted by Erik Haula and Kyle Rau on the goal that gave Minnesota the lead.
At 12:24, Minnesota's Justin Holl added to the lead on even strength on a rip in the slot. Travis Boyd and Mark Alt assisted on the Holl goal.
Shots were 38-30 in Minnesota's favor as 6:30 remained to be played. At the 13:44 mark of the third period, Minnesota's Sam Warning scored on a breakaway for an even strength marker, with Zach Budish and Jake Parenteau assisting Warning on the effort.
As the finishing touches were put on a Gopher victory on Saturday night, Minnesota felt the confidence come back to Mariucci Arena as if it were a cleansing breath of fresh air. Minnesota added a fifth goal at 18:55 as Zach Budish scored on the empty net. Budish had assists on the goal from Erik Haula and departing senior Seth Helgeson. Shots at game's end were 42-32 to Minnesota, with each team going 1-4 on power plays.
Minnesota ends the regular season with a visit to Bemidji to take on the Bemidji State Beavers next Friday and Saturday.
Geoff Discher is Examiner.com's Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey Examiner as well as the National College Hockey Examiner. Leave a comment below, or feel free to reach him at Disch61@hotmail.com with comments, story ideas, or any general talk surrounding college hockey. You can find him on Facebook as well by clicking here as well as here and joining the conversation from the social media side as well. He's always chock full of fact and opinion. I’m also on Twitter @GophHkyExmnr. Check it out!
Until next time, I'll see you at the rink!