Lucia-less Gophers Top Brown 6-2
With other matters obviously on the minds of the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s hockey team, the team took to the ice on Friday night and played – for the most part – a very solid 60 minutes en route to a 6-2 win over the University of Brown Bears in the second semifinal in the 2009 Dodge Holiday Classic.
The victory secured Minnesota a spot in the finals of the tournament where they will take on the Northeastern Huskies, who topped Western Michigan in the first semifinal by a 3-1 score.
Minnesota, of course, was without head coach Don Lucia, who missed Friday night’s game with an undisclosed illness. In Lucia’s absence, assistant coach John Hill took over the reigns as the head coach for the night.
Athletic Director Joel Maturi addressed the media during the first intermission but really had no information to share, other than the fact Lucia was still feeling under the weather and that doctors have yet to determine what the cause of his “flu-like symptoms” is. Maturi and Hill both said Lucia hoped to coach Saturday’s game from the press box but were unsure if that was a legit possibility at this time.
“It’s not fun not having Don here,” said Hill.
This was Minnesota’s first game since a 1-0 loss to Colorado College on Dec. 14, so early in it was apparent the team was still shaking off the proverbial rust.
In addition the long absence since their last game, the team was without three key players as Cade Fairchild, Mike Hoeffel and Jordan Schroeder all missed tonight’s game (and will also be gone on Saturday) because they playing for the United Stats in the World Junior Championships in Ottawa. The trio should be back for next weekend’s series at North Dakota.
However, Minnesota did welcome back a pair of key forward who missed the Colorado College series as both Mike Carman and Jay Barriball were able to play after suffering knee injures in late November vs. Michigan. And it didn’t take long for either to make their presence felt.
Carman scored his fifth goal of the season midway through the first period after his linemates, Ryan Flynn and Jake Hansen, made nice plays along the boards to keep the puck moving up the ice. Carman was the beneficiary as he broke in along on Brown netminder Dan Rosen to make it 1-0 Minnesota.
Minnesota ended the first period with just a one goal lead despite outshooting the Bears by a 17-1 margin.
“Our pace wasn’t where it needed to be,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “We were slow.”
Barriball scored his sixth of the season early in the second period. After freshman defenseman Aaron Ness drove the puck to the net, he dished a pass out front to Barriball, who after a second was able to get a hold of the puck and burry high on the blocker-side to double the Gophers lead.
“It was good to see both Carman and Jay back and scoring,” Hill said.
About five minutes later, senior Justin Bostrom would pick up his third of the year on a quirky play. A Sam Lofquist blast from the point was on net but deflected high into the air. Bostrom was planted on the side of the net and caught sight of the puck as it was coming down and batted it past Rosen just as the puck got near the ice to make it 3-0.
Bostrom would get his second point of the night on Minnesota’s fourth goal. Defenseman Kevin Wehrs drove the puck deep into the zone, circled around the net and got a wrist shot off. Rosen made the save but Bostrom swatted the rebound on net and it trickled out on the far side. Freshman Nico Sacchetti was there to tap it in for his second of the season at 15:36 of the second period.
The Gophers would again hold the Bears to just one shot on goal in a period, and after two the shots favored the Maroon and Gold by a 35-2 margin.
Despite their lack of success through two-thirds of the game, the Brown players came out fired up for the third period and certainly made the game interesting. A pair of goals in the first 6:07 of the third brought them to within a pair of goals and had some onlookers at Mariucci Arena certainly a bit concerned.
However, sophomore Patrick White would bump the Minnesota lead back to three goals as he broke into the zone and was allowed to get near the top of the circle before the defenseman contested his shot. At that point it was too late as the Grand Rapids native let a wrist shot fly that went five-hold on Rosen to make it 5-2.
A late empty net goal by Minnesota freshman Joey Miller would cap the scoring for the night, though not before both Barriball and Ryan Stoa missed chances at empty net goals. That didn’t seem to bother Barriball, who told John Hill after the game that “empty net goals are for weenies.”
Minnesota will now look to come away from a weekend series with two wins, which hasn’t happened since the first weekend of the season.
“It’s time for us to play good in back-to-back games,” Hill said.