Both Minnesota and Michigan Tech lined up to shake hands after the Gophers earned a 6-2 victory Saturday.
Despite the trivial display of sportsmanship, tension was still ubiquitous throughout Mariucci Arena, as minutes earlier a brawl between defensemen Seth Helgeson and Carl Nielsen had plunged the game into a tizzy.
“I personally thought it was awesome,” Gophers senior Joey Miller said. “It’s not fun, but when they’re taking cheap shots it’s good to see when people have their back, and it’s always fun to see your coach get fired up.
“He’s emotional, he’s got our back, and we’re kind of a family here. It’s good to show that sometimes even though it kind of got messy.”
In total, the refs doled out 55 penalty minutes in the final 10 minutes of play, and the chaos that ensued overshadowed the end result, a series split for the Gophers.
No. 2 Minnesota (14-5-1, 11-3-0 WCHA) fell to Michigan Tech in a thriller Friday night.
The Gophers dictated the tempo for a majority of the game, but Brett Olson and the Huskies had the last laugh with a goal in overtime.
“It was nice chip off the wall, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and it turned into a good ol’ footrace,” Olson said with a smile on his face Friday night. “It was really nice for us to get the win.”
Mark Alt put the Gophers on the board first when he fired a wrist shot from the point that deflected off of Michigan Tech defenseman Patrick McCadden and trickled past goaltender Josh Robinson.
The Gophers dominated puck possession in the first period, but a fluky goal for the Huskies evened the score.
Blake Pietila controlled the puck behind the net and lazily centered a pass that went off of Travis Boyd to beat goaltender Kent Patterson.
Steven Seigo later added a goal on the power play early in the third period to give Michigan Tech the lead.
It was still early in the period, and six minutes later Helgeson got the crowd back into it.
Helgeson took a pass from Alt off a faceoff in the Huskies’ zone and fluttered a wrist shot over Robinson’s right shoulder to tie the score at 2-2.
The Gophers had multiple breakaway chances later in the period, but Robinson held up and the game went into overtime.
“When you get those opportunities you have to finish,” head coach Don Lucia said. “Our defensemen ended up with both goals tonight, and we didn’t get anything from up front.”
In the extra frame, Olson fought off Helgeson and scored on the only shot of overtime, and the Huskies stole the opening game of the series.
“I think I did what I was supposed to do — he just made a good play,” Helgeson said. “If I look at it now I probably would have done the same thing … but he made a good move and capitalized on the shot.”
Kyle Rau scored the first goal of the game early in the first period as the Gophers earned a split Saturday.
Rau controlled a rebound with Robinson sprawled out to the left of the net and guided it past the goal line to make it 1-0.
Rau has made a living in and around the crease this season, and with the tap in goal, he now has 12 goals on the season.
Michigan Tech (9-8-1, 6-7-1 WCHA) took a timeout immediately following the goal in attempt to regain its composure. The Huskies were outshot 7-0 prior to the timeout.
“I thought we just came out with better energy mentally,” Lucia said. “It’s more mental than physical. We’re in good shape so part of it’s just the mental grind of being mentally ready to play a complete game.”
Minnesota still controlled the pace of the game, but a Seth Ambroz unsportsmanlike penalty helped swing momentum.
Jordan Baker capitalized with Ambroz in the penalty box to even the score at 1-1.
Minnesota took the momentum back when Jake Hansen redirected an Erik Haula shot past Robinson on the power play to make it 2-1.
Michigan Tech could not stop the bleeding after Hansen’s goal.
The Gophers sensed blood and looked like a shark closing in for the kill late in the second period, but a Blake Thompson game misconduct call bandaged the wound and gave the Huskies new life.
Thompson was ejected from the game for conduct to the head of David Johnstone — giving Michigan Tech a five-minute power play that extended into the third period.
Daniel Sova made it 2-2 when he fired a one-timer from just inside the blue line early in the third period.
Alt then scored his second goal on a Nick Bjugstad-esque one-timer from the left circle.
“Nate Schmidt kind of rolled up top so I figured I could step down to the side a little bit and find a lane, and it worked out,” Alt said.
The Gophers never looked back.
Bjugstad, Miller and Hansen added goals in a temper-filled final 10 minutes of play to finalize the score at 6-2.
Minnesota will now start a 20-day break and will resume play Dec. 30-31 when it hosts the Mariucci Classic tournament.
“It was the kind of effort that we had to have,” Lucia said. “We all feel pretty good right now that when the first half ends, that we’ve got a piece of first place in the league and an 11-3-0 league record.”
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