Minneapolis, Minn. – Expectations are always high at Minnesota. Captain Justin Kloos said before the season that it’s his goal to raise a big banner and not just the 2014-15 conference title and conference tournament banners raised Friday night. However, the Gophers learned over 60 minutes that the journey won’t be easy as Vermont (1-0-0) trapped and frustrated #8 Minnesota to a 3-0 loss in front of 9,775 at Mariucci Arena.
“Too many turnovers from the start and ultimately that killed our offense,” said Kloos. “It wasn’t just the D coming out of the zone, but then when the forwards got the puck--turnovers everywhere on the ice.”
The Catamounts played a one-man forecheck, keeping three and four defenders behind the puck, waiting for counter attack opportunities off turnovers.
Vermont capitalized on their first counter attack 19:51 into the first period. Mario Puskarich came in on the rush and fired a high shot on goal. Gopher goaltender Eric Schierhorn fought the puck off his chest, and the puck trickled over his shoulder past the goal line as he tried to corral it with his glove.
Vermont added to their lead in the third period. Puskarich again fired a shot on the rush, off a turnover. This time Scheirhorn spilled the puck just off the goal line and Puskarich, a former Hockey East rookie of the year, put the rebound off the goalie and in for his second of the season at 4:45.
“They very much want to play a counter attack game, clog it up in the neutral zone and create those turnovers,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia. “We didn’t do a great job at getting pucks behind them, that’s part of the learning process--you have to stay patient in a game like this.”
Jonathan Turk tallied an empty netter at 19:00 of the third period to seal the game.
“They played a really tough system, we don’t see it too much,” said Jake Bischoff. “They just sort of trapped us and we ended up turning the puck over too much. We weren’t able to get the puck behind their d as much as we wanted to and that’s what cost us in the end.”
“A lot of times we’d look up, especially defense in our own zone, and there would be someone right on our wing and right on our center each time.”
Minnesota was outshot 27-24, despite out attempting Vermont 53-45. The Gophers missed on 16 attempts and were blocked 13 times. The Gophers had a difficult time getting pucks on net, and when they did Vermont goalie Mike Santaguida saw them clearly.
Schierhorn's first start between the nets wasn’t clean for Minnesota, but Lucia was generally happy with how the goalie handled saving the first shot. The coaching staff picked the freshman from Anchorage as the starter based on his experience in the USHL. The coach noted how tricky it is to evaluate tenders in practice and that game performance is how they’ll evaluate players moving forward.
Kloos indicated it wasn’t the freshman who cost the Gophers the game, but put the weight on the shoulders of the captains--himself, Connor Reilly, Hudson Fasching, and Bischoff.
“We all need to be better if we’re going to have a good year—it starts with us,” said Kloos. “Any time you play poor you want to get back out on the ice as soon as possible and redeem yourself. We got a long five days and then we get to play a rival on Friday.”
The Gophers next series is a home and home series with Minnesota Duluth. The Friday game is at Mariucci and Saturday at AMSOIL. Both games are 7 p.m. puck drops on FSN.
GOLDEN NUGGETS: The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game counts as an additional game to the schedules of Minnesota and Vermont allowing them both to play 35 games this season. In return the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame gets an $80,000 donation from the University of Minnesota… Lucia moved the lines around a little bit after the second period and noted “It’s not like we have lines set in stone at this stage and I’m sure we’ll look at our lines and reshuffle the deck this week…” The Gophers first power play was Kloos, Hudson Fasching, Leon Bristedt, Michael Brodzinski, and Connor Reilly… the second unit Tyler Sheehy, Vinni Lettieri, Taylor Cammarata, Tommy Novak, and Bischoff. The penalty kill featured Kloos and Fasching, Bristedt and Lettieri, Michaelson and Sheehy, and all three defensive pairs saw the ice.
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