In the last year of the current state of the WCHA, the University of Minnesota looks to be in a dog fight for conference trophies and bragging rights.
The University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks split with the Gophers this weekend at Mariucci Arena. The Mavericks had a chance at the sweep, but a determined Minnesota squad fought back on Saturday and earned at least two points in the conference standings.
In Friday night’s tilt at Mariucci Arena, UNO had to fight back themselves to earn a 3-2 victory. Minnesota played inspired hockey for the first period, but gave up their 2-1 lead in the second period and could not slow down a Mavericks team that just kept coming.
Maverick forward Dominic Zombo started the scoring for the weekend series with a backdoor tip to beat Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox. Brainerd, Minn. native Josh Archibald assisted on the goal and would be the star of the night. Archibald assisted on the second period game-tying goal and scored the game winner in the third period.
Minnesota would answer Zombo’s goal in the first period with two scores of their own. Zach Budish was left alone in front of the net and Sam Warning was able to find him on a nice pass from the left wing half-wall to beat UNO goalie John Faulkner to tie the game 1-1.
The final score of the first period and the game for Minnesota came from sophomore Christian Isackson as he blasted a one-timer past Faulkner, after Nick Bjugstad found him alone in the slot.
The game winning goal by Archibald was set up by a Gopher turnover to Rosemount, Minn. native Ryan Walters. The former U of M recruit that I previewed last week coming into the series, stole the puck on an errant pass by Budish and waited for Archibald to make his way to the net before a great drop pass set up the winning score.
Walters and Isackson were teammates together in high school at Saint Thomas Academy.
Some uncharacteristic turnovers and lack of intensity late hurt Minnesota in the Friday loss. Head coach Don Lucia and staff made the necessary adjustments on Saturday to salvage the weekend split, including shortening his bench and using his top three forward lines against the Mavericks late in the game.
Saturday night’s win looked like the dominant team effort that fans expect from this Gopher men’s hockey team. Minnesota led 3-0 at one point of the second period of play before a late charge by the Mavericks made things interesting.
Minnesota used special teams opportunities to their advantage on the night as they capitalized on the seven power play chances they were given by scoring twice. Erik Haula started the scoring for the Maroon and Gold on the evening with his power play backhand goal in the first period.
The second power play goal came from Bjugstad as he absolutely sniped the top right corner of the net behind Faulkner, who was in goal for UNO for the second night in a row. This early second period goal by Bjugstad excited the 10,000-plus fans at Mariucci Arena and put the momentum heavily in the home team’s favor.
Just minutes later, junior Tom Serratore would score the game-winning goal for Minnesota after forward Nate Condon picked up a deflected puck in the Minnesota offensive zone and found Serratore in front of the net for his fourth goal of the season.
Nebraska-Omaha would fight back and take a 3-2 loss on the evening, but Minnesota missed multiple times on an empty-net at the other end of the ice that would have made things look more dominant in the box score.
Walters for UNO would assist on both of the Maverick goals on Saturday, to give him four points on the weekend, which led all scorers between both teams.
The Gophers will go on the road next weekend to Colorado Springs to take on the Colorado College Tigers at World Arena. CC poses another tough test for Lucia and the Gophers as the Tigers are currently ranked just two points behind Minnesota in the WCHA standings, but have played two fewer conference games.
Minnesota will need to find some scoring against the Tigers to get victories as CC leads the conference in team scoring, but are near the bottom in goals against.