Added intensity at Wednesday’s practice in preparation for North Dakota morphed into sheer malice Friday night at Mariucci Arena.
It culminated with a dramatic game-winning goal by freshman phenom Kyle Rau on Saturday to complete a series sweep of the Fighting Sioux.
Rau electrified a crowd of 10,234 Saturday when he scored his eighth goal of the season with 45.8 seconds left in the third period. His goal provided the Gophers with their first regular-season home sweep of UND since 1996.
“It was a blast,” Rau said. “It’s amazing being out there. It was a good way to go out.”
No. 5 Minnesota (9-1-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) is off to its best start since the 2001-02 season, when it started 11-0-2. The Gophers are three points ahead of second-place Michigan Tech in the WCHA and have built a 10-point lead over UND.
“North Dakota is a good team; they’re going to be just fine,” head coach Don Lucia said. “We just feel fortunate we were able to get a couple of wins and move on.”
The Gophers skated away with a 2-0 win Friday, and Kent Patterson recorded his fifth shutout of the season to tie an all-time Minnesota record set by Robb Stauber in 1987-88.
Although the first period of the opening game featured little action and no goals were scored, the second period made up for it.
The Gophers’ Seth Ambroz was ejected just 30 seconds into the second period when he made contact with UND’s Mario Lamoureux’s head.
That was just the beginning of the pandemonium.
At 11:47 into the second period, Kent Patterson dove to cover up a loose puck in front of the net and Dan Senkbeil made contact with the goaltender.
Four separate fights ensued — seemingly one after another — and when referees regained control, Minnesota came out with a power play opportunity.
Nate Schmidt fired a slap shot from the point that ricocheted off of Lamoureux early in the power play.
Lamoureux went down, but could not manage to skate off the ice, essentially giving the Gophers a 5-on-3 advantage.
Nick Bjugstad controlled the puck seconds later and fired a shot top shelf on UND goaltender Aaron Dell.
“It was kind of a lucky play,” Bjugstad said. “I think it ended up being a 3-on-0 and if I wouldn’t have scored, I think I would have gotten some heat from the guys because it was a 3-on-0 — there were some open guys — but fortunately it went in.”
Tom Serratore beat Dell five-hole at 11:17 into the third period to make it 2-0 and provide Minnesota with added insurance.
UND pulled Dell with 75 seconds remaining to gain an extra attacker, but never saw a realistic scoring opportunity.
“Our team did a great job competing tonight,” Patterson said Friday. “We knew it was going to be this kind of atmosphere and North Dakota was going to come out the way they [did].”
It was clear from the drop of the puck Saturday that the intensity from Friday’s game would carry over, but the brutality calmed as the game wore on.
Bjugstad gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead when he put a backhand shot into the net after Dell failed to control shots from both Zach Budish and Justin Holl.
Less than 3 minutes later, the Sioux answered.
No. 15 UND (3-6-1, 1-5-0 WCHA) cashed in 8 seconds into its second power play of the night following an Ambroz interference call.
The Sioux’s Brock Nelson controlled the puck to the right of the net and ripped a wrist shot over Patterson’s left shoulder to knot the score 1-1.
The Gophers had a chance to break the tie in the second period when two UND penalties gave Minnesota a 5-on-3 opportunity, but Jake Hansen took an interference penalty to negate the two-man advantage.
Rocco Grimaldi made Hansen pay. Grimaldi deked two Minnesota defensemen and fired the second UND goal past Patterson at 8:39 to take a 2-1 lead.
UND took that one-goal lead into the third period and looked to be in control of the game as time ticked away.
Nick Larson, however, tied the game 13:56 into the third period and got the crowd back into it.
“I thought our fourth line gave us good energy all weekend long,” Lucia said. “They scored the huge goal on Friday night — Serratore’s goal.”
UND had a 3-on-1 opportunity with a chance to win the game with 3 minutes remaining, but Patterson made an acrobatic save to deny a Nelson one-timer.
Patterson robbed Corban Knight a minute later to keep the score tied, 2-2.
Patterson’s saves paved the way for Rau’s heroics and the freshman came through in the clutch — something he’s grown accustomed to.
“That’s his history,” Lucia said. “Great players make great plays at critical moments in games, and he’s done that all his life.”
UND pulled Dell on the ensuing faceoff, but Nate Condon sealed the series sweep when he blocked a shot from the point with 3 seconds left.
As soon as he blocked the shot, Gophers players emptied the bench and mobbed Patterson at his net.
“It was a great finishing touch to a great weekend,” Larson said. “We had faith the whole time and that’s what we practice hard for.”