Through one series, the Gophers looked to have picked up right where they left off.
Minnesota swept its season-opening series with Michigan State at Mariucci Arena, winning 5-1 Friday and 7-1 Saturday.
With the departure of Kent Patterson, one of Minnesota’s few question marks entering the season was goaltending. But the Gophers made that a nonfactor this weekend by scoring early and playing good defense.
Junior Michael Shibrowski made 25 saves on 26 shots on the weekend, and freshman Adam Wilcox made 10 saves on 11 shots.
“I thought [Wilcox] looked sharp,” head coach Don Lucia said. “He’s not afraid to go out and play the puck.”
Lucia said Wilcox will have to learn the right and wrong times to play the puck. He noted a couple of icings that were called off because of his eagerness to come out of the net.
Fast starts were key for the Gophers, who scored three goals in the first stanza Friday and four Saturday. After 20 minutes Saturday, Minnesota had more goal, four, than Michigan State had shots, three.
Only three skaters failed to make the score sheet Saturday for Minnesota. Seventeen of the 20 skaters the Gophers used on the weekend recorded at least one point.
Spartans goaltender Will Yanakeff had a weekend he’d probably rather forget. The junior played five periods and gave up 11 goals. Yanakeff was pulled in favor of Jake Hildebrand in the third period of Saturday’s game.
The Gophers’ Ben Marshall got the party started early Friday when he kissed a slap shot off the post and past Yanakeff.
Marshall is one of a handful of sophomores Lucia said he was depending on to aid the scoring this season.
“Those sophomores have to be better,” Lucia said. “They’ve shown that they are better, and they have to be that second-tier scoring that we need.”
A few minutes later, following a penalty to Mike Reilly, the Gophers struck again when Reilly came out of the box and set up Nick Bjugstad. Six minutes into the contest, the Gophers held a 2-0 lead.
“I just wanted to come out and play physical and do our thing,” Bjugstad said. “That was a big thing coming out in the first period in our home rink. Friday night games weren’t our biggest thing last year, so we’re trying to change that trend.”
Christian Isackson, Erik Haula and Travis Boyd each scored to make the game 5-0 in the third period before the Spartans’ Tanner Sorenson ruined Shibrowski’s shutout bid.
“When you can play with the lead, you get the comfort level,” Lucia said. “I think [after] the first couple saves you have, then you can settle in.”
Lucia said Shibrowski was “chasing a little bit” early in the year, and he was “a little nervous” early in Friday’s game.
Saturday’s first period mirrored Friday’s, but the Gophers dominated even more.
Seconds after Wilcox made a great glove save to keep the score tied, Haula gave Minnesota the early 1-0 lead a minute and a half in. Haula bull-rushed Yanakeff and scored after the Spartans’ goalie failed to corral the puck.
The Gophers made it 2-0 on Saturday after two well-executed passes by Isackson and Kyle Rau. Isackson gained the zone, waited and then passed to Rau, who came off the bench. Rau then found the tape of Bjugstad’s stick for the back-door goal.
“We tried to emphasize that — to come out hard in the first 10 [minutes],” Haula said. “Getting the 3-0 lead in both games was huge.”
Isackson proved his hat trick in the exhibition game against Lethbridge wasn’t luck. The sophomore, who only played in 11 games last year, had one goal and two assists on the weekend.
Tom Serratore and Marshall added two more goals in the first period Saturday. Rau and Nate Condon lit the lamp in the second, and freshman defender Brady Skjei notched the first goal of his college career in the third.
The Gophers outshot the Spartans 76-37 over the weekend.