DULUTH, Minn. — Entering the weekend series against Minnesota-Duluth, senior forward Jake Hansen said the Gophers men’s hockey team should be the premier team in the storied rivalry.
This weekend, the Gophers proved Hansen right, at least for the time being.
Minnesota completed a weekend sweep with two 5-4 victories over UMD on Friday and Saturday at the Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
The Bulldogs have been favored in their games with the Gophers in recent years and are fresh off their first NCAA championship in school history.
No. 14 Minnesota (4-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) on the other hand, has significantly underachieved and has missed the NCAA tournament in each of the past three seasons.
Minnesota used a five-point series by Nick Bjugstad and stellar play by goaltender Kent Patterson to upend the defending national champions on their home ice.
“Our specialties won us the weekend — our specialties and our goaltender,” head coach Don Lucia said.
Minnesota scored six power play goals in the series, including a perfect 3-for-3 power play performance Saturday.
The Gophers’ penalty kill was just as impressive, only allowing two goals to a usually potent UMD power play unit.
Patterson had a career-high 46 saves Friday and matched that total Saturday.
“I knew coming in it was going to be a long night, especially after last night going through all those shots,” Patterson said after Saturday’s game.
He said the multitude of shots did not faze him.
“I like the battle. I like always being challenged. The harder games, I’d have to say, are the ones where you’re not getting shots.”
Minnesota got off to a fast start Friday night with two first-period goals by Erik Haula and Kyle Rau.
UMD’s Caleb Herbert and Travis Oleksuk retaliated with one goal apiece to knot the score in the second period. Oleksuk’s goal came in response to a Zach Budish game misconduct penalty that gave the Bulldogs a man advantage.
Rau tallied his second goal of the night to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead, but a goal by UMD’s Drew Olsen and a late third-period goal by Justin Crandall looked to put the game out of reach.
Minnesota pulled Patterson to gain an extra attacker and Haula netted the game-tying goal with 44 seconds left in the game as the puck caromed off the skate of UMD’s Chris Casto.
Nate Condon clinched the game for the Gophers 4:04 into overtime when he batted a low shot out of mid-air and into the net to silence the sold-out crowd of 6,751.
“I came off the bench and luckily no one saw me,” Condon said. “Taylor Matson threw the puck right to me … and I swung at it out of the air and it kind of went in. I didn’t even see it go in.”
Saturday it was No. 9 UMD (1-3-0, 0-2-0 WCHA), not Minnesota, which got off to a fast start in front of a record-breaking crowd of 6,784.
The Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Oleksuk and Jack Connolly.
Brady Lamb hit the far post with a shot from the circle that would have pushed the score to a 3-0 deficit had it gone in.
Fortunately for the Gophers, it didn’t. That’s when Minnesota started its rally.
Still down two and on the power play, Hansen took a centering pass at the point and riffled a shot past UMD goaltender Kenny Reiter at 12:05 to put in the first goal for the Gophers.
“I liked the way we responded,” Lucia said. “I thought the critical moment of the game then was we got our first power play and we scored. Our power play is very confident right now.”
Condon followed up Hansen’s goal with one of his own when he raced into the offensive zone and fired a shot that ricocheted off the board behind the net.
Reiter tried to cover it up in the crease, but Casto deflected the puck into his own net to inadvertently aid in a Gophers’ goal for the second time on the weekend.
Bjugstad gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead as he deked out Lamb and fired a shot past Reiter.
Condon scored his second goal of the night on the power play to stretch the Gophers’ lead to 4-2. Rau added an extra power play goal to make it 5-2 — a goal that would prove pivotal.
The Bulldogs made a late push with goals by Herbert and J.T. Brown, but were unable tie the game after pulling Reiter to gain an extra attacker.
UMD put on extreme pressure for 80 seconds with the extra attacker on the ice, but Patterson made a key blocker save to seal the game for the Gophers.
Patterson made 92 saves on the weekend on 100 shots.
“Last night I liked the way we came back,” Patterson said Saturday. “We made our mistakes, but we came back … and battled in the last minute of overtime to win.
“Tonight we just showed that we can finish a game with the lead.”
The Gophers improved to 4-0-0 for the first time since the 2001-02 season and now lead the all-time series with UMD 131-72-15.