It was about this time last year that Minnesota got on a roll that carried the Gophers all the way the a national title.
After two impressive come-from-behind performances last weekend, and Friday night’s 5-3 win over St. Cloud State before 6,685 at the National Hockey Center, the Gophers look to be getting back on that roll once again.
They controlled the game from the outset, capitalized on every mistake the Huskies made and got goals from five different players to eerily resemble the team that skated to a title last March.
They also killed what was suppose to be a special night in St. Cloud as the Huskies honored their six seniors prior to the game.
“It’s always nice to come in to another team’s building and beat them on their senior night,” said Minnesota forward Barry Tallackson.
The Gophers started that quest early. They dominated the opening 20 minutes, outshooting the Huskies 11-4 and taking a 2-0 lead into the locker room on goals by Judd Stevens and Jake Fleming, four minutes apart midway through the frame.
Stevens scored on a wrist shot from the slot after Tallackson set him up with a nice drop pass at the 8:34 mark, and Fleming turned and fired a slapshot past Jake Moreland from in between the circles.
St. Cloud came out flying in the second, though, and after a pair of Joe Motzko power-play goals 20 seconds apart in the first three minutes, the game was tied at two. But as in the first, Minnesota took over.
Keith Ballard got the lead back for the Gophers just four minutes later on a power play. Troy Riddle cleaned up a rebound off another Ballard blast at 13:04 and Gino Guyer was the beneficiary of a great individual effort from Tallackson five minutes later to make it 5-2.
“Responding there was the critical point in the game,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “We got the next three and really took the wind out of their sails and got the crowd out of it, which was important.”
“Every time we made a mistake, the puck ended up in the back of the net,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “And we had some glaring errors.”
The Huskies tried to rally in the third. They got within two when Motzko completed the hat trick after stuffing a rebound just under the crossbar with 3:13 to go, and had a handful of decent chances after pulling goaltender Jason Montgomery — who replaced Moreland at the start of the period — with 2:40 left, but couldn’t get anything past Travis Weber, who finished with 19 saves.
“Tonight said a lot about our character,” said Ballard. “We have a lot of talent on this team and we beat a real good team tonight.”
With the win Minnesota moved within a point of second place in the WCHA, and can steal the spot from Minnesota State with either a win or tie Saturday night when the Huskies and Gophers meet again in Minneapolis. The Huskies, meanwhile, assured themselves of a road trip when the league playoffs start next weekend.
“Home ice is gone, there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Motzko, “except for go down there and take care of business tomorrow.”
“We know they will be looking to do the same thing to us tomorrow night,” said Tallackson, who was playing in the World Junior Tournament the last time these two teams met. “Our seniors mean a lot to us, though, and we want to send them out on a good note.”