Minnesota takes over WCHA lead

Two wins at Alaska-Anchorage move the Gophers to 4-0-0 on the road.
  • Satchell Mische-Richter, Daily File Photo
October 31, 2011

The Gophers men struggled on the road last year, finishing with a record of 7-4-3 away from Mariucci Arena.

This year has been a different story.

No. 8 Minnesota (7-1-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) swept Alaska-Anchorage over the weekend and is now 4-for-4 on the road this season.

With the win, the Gophers also moved into sole possession of first place in the WCHA.

“We’re 4-0 on the road in the WCHA — I think that’s the key stat more than anything else,” head coach Don Lucia said.

Despite the six-hour flight and three-hour time difference in Alaska, Minnesota silenced the Seawolves’ offensive and defensive attack and exacted revenge from last year’s sweep in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

“Everyday we’ve been talking about it in the locker room — getting these guys back,” Erik Haula said. “It has a huge impact on a game. We just wanted to come out and carry this game on.”

Haula got the scoring started Friday after burying a Zach Budish feed into the back of the net. This was Haula’s first career point against Alaska.

Nick Bjugstad and Mark Alt added goals later in the second period to stretch the lead to three. Alt’s goal was his first of the season.

Although the three-goal lead would be more than enough for Patterson, the Gophers wasted no time adding insurance.

Justin Holl and Haula added goals in the third period to finalize the score at 5-0.

Kent Patterson recorded 22 saves in his third shutout of the season and the Gophers gained two crucial points on the road against the Seawolves.

Minnesota improved on its nation-leading power play on Friday, as well, going two-for-three with the man advantage.

“We have so many weapons,” Haula said. “We have so many different looks and were shooting the puck, which is the most important part.”

The Seawolves came out with more fight on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough as the Gophers triumphed 3-1.

Minnesota outshot Alaska-Anchorage 20-4 in the first period, but only managed 11 shots the rest of the game.

“I thought we came out and had really good energy in the first period and really dictated the game and were able to play with a lead,” Lucia said.

Budish netted a one-timer for the first goal Saturday and Nate Condon added a shorthanded goal in the second period to make it 2-0.

Alaska-Anchorage (3-4-1, 0-4-0 WCHA) came out energized in the second and third periods, and Sam Mellor scored the first power play goal of the series for the Seawolves.

It was the only goal Minnesota allowed all series.

“I was expecting that they were going to be coming in, putting a lot on net and I thought our guys did a great job of blocking shots and clearing pucks out,” Patterson said.

Alaska-Anchorage pulled Rob Gunderson to gain an extra attacker, but Kyle Rau scored a long empty-net goal to ice the game for the Gophers.

Patterson finished with 26 saves on 27 shots and continued his dominant season between the pipes.  

“He does it every night. It’s not luck or anything like that,” Haula said. “It doesn’t matter if he lets in four goals — he always gives us a chance to win the game.”

Minnesota is off to its best start since the 2001-02 season, when it started 11-0-2, and will enter the series against North Dakota next weekend as the leader in the WCHA.

“I knew we were going to be young,” Lucia said. “I knew having [Patterson] could cover up some mistakes from a young defensive core, which he’s done at times.

“It’s only October, but it was a good October for us.”

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