Gophers Get Defensive In Victory Over Huskies
The Golden Gophers have somewhat quietly remained atop the nation’s defensive rankings all season long despite their recent bout of less-than-stellar play, and that “defense first” mentally was on display Friday night at Mariucci Arena as Minnesota held St. Cloud State to just 13 shots in a 2-1 victory over their in-state rivals.
“I thought the difference in the game was how Minnesota sold out defensively,” said Huskies head coach Bob Motzko. “They blocked how many shots? They went into the lane with a purpose. They were really committed to playing defense.”
Particularly impressive was how the Gophers shut things down in the third period while up by a goal. The Huskies managed just one shot on net for the entire period that included a pair of late power plays. Kent Patterson made just 11 saves on the night, but many of them were certainly more than run of the mill type stops, and he – like the team – picked up his 18th victory of the season.
“We had better defensive flow than offensive flow tonight,” head coach Don Lucia said. “We turned a lot of pucks over that took rhythm away from us offensively, but we did enough to win.”
The first period was borderline unwatchable, as both teams struggled to get anything going. However, thanks to a St. Cloud State miscue at center ice, the Gophers were handed an odd-man rush, and senior Jake Hansen finished the play, beating SCSU goalie Mike Lee – who was making his first start since October due to a leg injury – to put the Gophers ahead 1-0. Erik Haula got the lone assist on Hansen’s 10th goal of the season.
St. Cloud State would rebound to tie the game early in the second period thanks to a power play goal by Ben Hanowski, who finished the play thanks in large part to a great pass from freshman defenseman Andrew Prochno, whose point on this play helped atone for the fact he was partly to blame for both Gopher tallies. Patterson had no shot and Hanowski’s 13th goal of the season knotted the game at 1-1 at 4:26 of the second.
However, another odd-man rush for Minnesota would net another goal. This time, arguably the Gophers’ top three offensive players – Hansen, Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad – led a three-on-one rush into the SCSU zone. Hansen fed Bjugstad for a back-door tap-in to put the Gophers back in front at the 11:49 mark of the second period.
“We had two critical mistakes and they scored on both of them,” Motzko said.
In terms of the team’s improved defense (they currently sit 4th in the country at 2.04 goals per game), Hansen credited the return of associate head coach Mike Guentzel to the staff.
“He’s made a huge impact on the defense. The guy knows what he’s doing. He’s done a great job of getting our defense to understand the need to know their roles.”
The Gophers win, coupled with Minnesota Duluth’s tie vs. Michigan Tech puts the Gophers three points clear of the Bulldogs for first place in the WCHA, though UMD has two games in-hand which they’ll gain back next weekend as Minnesota is off while the defending champs travel to Anchorage to tangle with the Seawolves.
Nationally, the Gophers went from 13th to 10th in the always volatile PairWise Rankings. Those can change dramatically at this time of the season, but it’s for sure keeping an eye on them now more than a few weeks ago.
Another plus to this win is that it makes only the second time in the team’s last seven WCHA series that they were able to get a win on a Friday night. This is also the team’s fourth game out of its last five that ended with a 2-1 score.
Through three games between the two teams this season, the home team has won each time. Minnesota will look to avenge its 4-3 loss at the National Hockey Center back on November 18 on Saturday night up in St. Cloud. Puck-drop is set for 7 p.m.
“When we’re playing well, we’re doing those little things. We did some of them tonight, and we need to do more of them tomorrow,” Lucia said.