In a game that had the makings of a laugher at the second intermission, No. 4 Minnesota scored the first four goals before Brown temporarily narrowed the gap in the third period of an eventual 6-2 Gopher win Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
Six different Gophers scored goals and 14 had at least one point as Minnesota outshot Brown 42-15 for the game.
The victory sent Minnesota (9-3-5) into the championship of its own Dodge Holiday Classic. The Gophers will meet Northeastern, a winner over Western Michigan in the first semifinal, while Brown (1-9-2) will play WMU in the consolation game.
“We were slow,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “I thought we were a big step behind them the first two periods.”
For Minnesota, the win was dampened by head coach Don Lucia’s absence. The Gophers’ bench boss missed the game — the first time he has missed a match in his 22-year head coaching career — with an as-yet-undiagnosed illness.
“For me personally, this is not fun,” said Minnesota assistant coach John Hill, the interim head coach Friday night. “Not having Don here is not fun … but hopefully he’ll be here tomorrow night.”
The Gophers dominated the first two periods — to such an extent that Minnesota had put 12 shots on net before Brown got its first, and the Bears didn’t record their second shot on goal until 29 minutes into the game.
By that time Minnesota held a 25-2 advantage in that category, and after 40 minutes the shot margin was 35-2 as the Gophers built a 4-0 lead.
“The first two periods were unacceptable,” said Grillo. “Minnesota’s a good team, but we’re not as bad as we were the first two periods.”
All six Gopher goals were scored at even strength as Minnesota went 0-for-8 with the man-advantage after entering the weekend with the nation’s fourth-best power play.
“We felt that our entire team played pretty well,” said Hill. “[But] if we’re going to beat Northeastern, we’re going to need some power-play goals.”
Brown, meanwhile, was 1-for-4 on the power play, but the extensive time spent shorthanded hurt the Bears’ cause.
“When you’re playing almost a full period down, it’s going to wear out some of your key guys,” said Grillo.
For the Bears, netminder Dan Rosen was solid with 36 saves, while for Minnesota Alex Kangas made 13 stops.
Minnesota’s Jordan Schroeder, Mike Hoeffel and Cade Fairchild missed the game while with Team USA at the World Junior Championship. In their places, though, the Gophers welcomed back two forwards playing their first games since November.
Mike Carman, making his return after a three-game layoff due to a leg injury suffered Nov. 28 against Michigan, put the Gophers on the board at 7:30 of the first period, racing up the right side to beat Rosen on the far side for his fifth goal of the season.
Jay Barriball — like Carman back for the first time since the Michigan game — extended the Gopher lead to two at 4:16 of the second period. The junior took a centering pass from Aaron Ness and fired past Rosen’s blocker side for his sixth goal.
At the halfway point of the contest, Justin Bostrom made it 3-0 Gophers, sending home the puck from the right side of the crease, and just over five minutes later, Nico Sacchetti scored on an easy putaway off the rebound of Bostrom’s stuff attempt.
That gave Minnesota a 4-0 lead as the game seemed ready to turn into a rout, but Brown had other thoughts.
Scoring leader Matt Vokes couldn’t quite put the Bears on the scoreboard with a shot off the post in the second period, but at 2:44 of the third Jordan Pietrus ended the shutout bid, scoring on a rocket slapshot from the blue line to make it 4-1.
Pietrus’ tally seemed to energize the Bears, who looked faster, sharper and more determined. Shortly thereafter, captain Devin Timberlake narrowed the Gopher lead to 4-2, stuffing his own rebound past Kangas at 6:07 for his fourth goal of the season.
But with the game abruptly turning competitive, Patrick White cruised into the offensive zone and let go a shot from the top of the right circle that got through Rosen at 8:53 to give Minnesota breathing room again.
The Gophers cruised from there, tacking on the sixth goal after Brown emptied the net. Freshman Joe Miller scored with eight seconds left to account for the final margin.
“It could be a million excuses, but I’m not going to take them,” said Grillo of the Bears’ poor early play. “Two shots [through two periods] — it’s just not us.”
Minnesota takes on Northeastern at 7:05 p.m. CT Saturday, while Brown and Western Michigan drop the puck at 4:05 p.m.
“It’s time for us to play good back-to-back games,” said Hill. “We haven’t done that yet.”