Mariucci Classic: Special teams fuel Minnesota's victory over UMass

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Minnesota defeated Massachusetts, 4-1, on Saturday night to take the Mariucci Classic trophy for the 14th time after three years of falling short.

MINNEAPOLIS – The Gophers and the Minutemen combined for 60 penalty minutes, which played into Minnesota’s favor as it scored on two of its five power plays and Mass failed  to score on any of its six.

“It feels good. We were talking about it before, our seniors hadn’t won it so we wanted to win it for them, and (we) lost in a tough one last year so it feels good to come out with our own trophy,” said Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn.

Schierhorn was an outstanding member of the Gopher penalty kill and made many tough saves at clutch moments in the game. Schierhorn, who made 33 saves, was named the Mariucci Classic MVP after only allowing two goals in the tournament while stopping 60 shots.

“I’m really happy for Schierhorn the way he played this weekend, and you know that’s without question the best he’s played this year on any given weekend,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We are a much better team when he plays like that.”

Ryan Wischow of UMass faced 38 shots and was unable to save three.

The first of the three goals occurred in the first two minutes when Tyler Sheehy rocketed a one-timer into the back of the net from a perfect pass by linemate Justin Kloos. The Minutemen survived a barrage of Gophers shots during the period (16) and went into the first intermission with only a one-goal deficit.

At 4:43 into the second period Minnesota’s Mike Szmatula took a penalty, but Justin Kloos decided to make the most of it, sniping Wischow low and on his blocker side after a shorthanded breakaway.

UMass got back in it later in the period when Jonny Lazarus came down the ice on a 2-on-1 and whistled in a low, far-side shot that was quicker than Schierhorn’s glove. About one minute later, while UMass was looking for its equalizer, the Gophers (11-5-2) struck again when Szmatula smacked in a one-timer from a nifty backhand pass by Sheehy.

The third period was dominated by the Minutemen, who had 10 shots to the Gophers’ six, thanks in part to Minnesota’s five penalties.

That didn’t show on the scoreboard, however. The only point in the final period was the nail-in-the-coffin goal by Gopher Vinni Lettieri,  which came when he backhanded the puck from deep into an open net with 47 seconds remaining to give the Gophers a 4-1 lead.

“I thought for the most part even strength it was pretty even, and I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot taking some penalties,” said UMass captain Steven Iacobellis. “It could have been a different game if the special teams were alive.”

The Gophers outscored Massachusetts and Mercyhurst a combined 9-2 in winning the tournament.

Mercyhurst 3, Alabama Huntsville 2 (OT)

Sophomore Matthew Whittaker’s overtime goal lifted Mercyhurst to the consolation game victory in a game in which it was badly outshot but Alabama Huntsville, 43-25.

“Hockey’s a funny game, I don’t think we played very well. Alabama really just kept taking it to us and I thought they played well,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “I thought the difference for us tonight was the penalty kill; our penalty kill kept us in it.”

The Chargers had no goals on five power plays but seemed to be more patient and made much better passes especially in the first and second periods. Mercyhurst played more erratically and dumped pucks into the zone instead of making good passes until the third period, when things turned around for the Lakers. Jack Riley and Nathan Ferriero struck less than five minutes apart to tie the score with 9:47 to play.

Mercyhurst netminder Colin DeAugustine stood on his head, making 41 saves, while Chargers goalie Carmine Guerrero stopped 22 shots.

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