In a series in which fights and offensive production were a given, Friday night’s contest between Minnesota and North Dakota came down to Adam Wilcox preserving the lead until the Gophers pulled away in the third period.
What started as a defensive struggle turned into a blowout as the No. 1 Gophers won 5-1 at Mariucci Arena.
Despite what looked like a blowout on paper, Wilcox was stellar in net. The freshman finished with 24 saves and allowed only one goal despite North Dakota's ability to put traffic in front of the net all night.
The bitter rivals seemed to be content to feel each other out. Halfway through the opening period, each team had only registered one shot on goal. Minnesota (17-3-3, 9-3-3 WCHA) held an 8-5 shots advantage after one period.
“I thought that when the game started, it was kind of tentative on both sides,” Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. “It was cautious -- nobody wanted to make a mistake.”
The scoring picked up in the second period, thanks in part to some penalties.
After Jake Parenteau took a lazy holding penalty, North Dakota struck first when a pass from behind the goal line pinballed in the crease and deflected off Seth Helgeson’s shoulder and behind Wilcox. Michael Parks was credited with the goal.
“You kind of just have to forget about it," Wilcox said of the goal. "Every now and again there’s going to be a bad bounce like that. It’s better than letting up a squeaky five-hole from the red line."
Zach Budish tied the game later in the second period after a great individual effort by Sam Warning. Warning gained the zone, fought through checks by two North Dakota defensemen and centered a pass to Budish in the high slot.
Later, on the power play, Ben Marshall hammered home a rebound with five seconds left in the period to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
“Getting that first goal, for us to tie it 1-1, was critical,” Lucia said. “To get that next goal at the end of the second period, that was a big one.”
Both Wilcox and North Dakota goaltender Clarke Saunders played well through two periods.
“We’ve come to expect that from [Wilcox],” Nate Condon said. “But you can’t always bank on that.”
The Gophers solved Saunders in the third period. Nate Schmidt opened the scoring in the final stanza with a rocket from the point that looked to have glanced off a North Dakota defender.
Condon put the game out of reach 10 minutes later with a shorthanded goal. Condon got the puck after Joe Gleason broke his stick on a slap shot from the blue line. Condon then used his speed to outmaneuver the stickless defenseman for Minnesota’s fourth goal.
Erik Haula added an empty-net goal for the game’s final score.
“It wasn’t necessarily a pretty game all game long, but we did enough to win,” Lucia said.
Minnesota and North Dakota will close out their Western Collegiate Hockey Association history tomorrow. The game will be played at 5 p.m. at Mariucci Arena as part of Hockey Day in Minnesota.