If you're looking to see a clean hockey game, the North Dakota-Minnesota tilt probably isn't the one for you to view.
In a rivalry that continues to be one of the most fiercely contested in all of college hockey, Minnesota boosted its record to 8-1-0 overall (5-0-0 WCHA) with a 2-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux. Minnesota and North Dakota combined for 69 penalty minutes in the game, and although North Dakota had a longer time on the power play it was the Gophers' defensive special teams that won the day for the Maroon and Gold.
Friday 11/4/11: 2-0 Gopher Win
Minnesota started the game very tentatively. Both teams played a sloppy first ten minutes, with a lot of passes uncharacteristically in skates instead of tape-to-tape, perhaps a sign that the teams were filled with nervous energy heading into such an important matchup. North Dakota had the better of the chances in the first half of the first period. However, Minnesota would turn it on as the game progressed. The Gophers would eventually take a lead in the shots department 10-7 at the end of the period, but no pucks made it past either Sioux goaltender Aaron Dell or Gopher netminder Kent Patterson as the squads headed into the locker rooms. Each team committed three penalties in the first.
The second period opened with a Gopher penalty. Seth Ambroz, the big Minnesota freshman playing on the team's third line, took an ill-advised contact to the head penalty at thirty seconds of the period and received a five-minute major and game misconduct. This gave the Sioux a great chance to take control of the game. However, Minnesota's tremendous penalty kill came up huge once again. The kill was punctuated by Minnesota's Kyle Rau, who ragged the puck one-on-four in the North Dakota zone for upwards of thirty seconds before passing it back to his teammates, who continued to control the puck before firing it down the ice.
The capacity crowd of 10,176 erupted as the Gophers killed off the penalty and returned to full strength - Mariucci Arena had not been that loud for at least five years, and it would get even louder. The fans roared when a big scrum erupted at 11:47 of the period. The Gophers second line reacted to North Dakota's fourth line making a run at Kent Patterson. All five Gophers squared off against the five Sioux players, and in the end the Gophers wound up with a power play. Here, Nate Schmidt's slapper from the point hit and injured Mario Lamoureux, and with a player down on the ice Kyle Rau found Nick Bjugstad wide open in the mid-slot. Bjugstad fired a wrister into the corner to score the first goal of the game and give the Gophers a 1-0 lead which they would hold into the second intermission. Minnesota won the shot battle in the second period as well, holding a 14 to 11 advantage in the period for a 24-18 lead in the game overall.
The third began with a couple of Gopher penalties, as Seth Helgeson and Nick Bjugstad took minors that gave North Dakota nearly four straight minutes on the man advantage. Kent Patterson stood tall once again and made the key saves. The Gopher team defense also was solid all night, blocking shots and clearing what few rebounds that Patterson left on the doorstep. Midway through the final frame, the Gopher fourth line was the nail in the Sioux coffin as Travis Boyd won a defensive zone faceoff right to Nick Larson, who fed a streaking Tom Serratore on a breakaway. Serratore's shot beat Dell and gave the Gophers the separation goal they needed. There were several more scuffles the rest of the way, but Minnesota again remained strong on defense and as the final horn sounded the Gophers had won a tight 2-0 victory.
Check out the game highlights courtesy of Gopher Sports
Three Gopher Stars of the Game
3. Kyle Rau: 0G-1A-1P
Rau was all over the ice all night, providing great spark in the crucial, momentum-shifting five minute penalty kill that jump-started the Gophers to victory. Rau's assist on the Bjugstad goal was a thing of beauty as well as a testament to Rau's hustle. The freshman forward was hit from behind by North Dakota's Ben Blood on what looked like a clear checking from behind call. However, the referees swallowed their whistles and play continued. In the midst of all this, Rau just got up and fired a quick pass across the ice to a wide-open Bjugstad. Rau's tenacity and hustle earned him the number three star of the night.
2. Kent Patterson: 24 Saves on 24 Shots, 1.000 Sv %, 5th Shutout of the Season
This shutout, Patterson's fifth on the season, ties him with Gopher great and Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber for first all-time in single season shutouts. What makes this feat even more impressive is that Patterson has accomplished it in only nine games. If you can pick one player to be the best on your team, you'd like for it to be the goalkeeper. Patterson provides senior leadership and a calming presence between the pipes. He covers for the young defensemen when they make mistakes and gives Minnesota a chance to win every single night. Likely any other night Mr. Patterson would earn the number one star for his efforts, but tonight one other player shined for this Minnesota team, so Patterson will have to settle with a shutout against arch-rival North Dakota and the number two star.
1. Taylor Matson: 0G-0A-0P
Matson did not record a point in Friday's contest, but he was the best player on the ice for either team. The senior captain willed his Gopher squad to a victory by doing the things that do not appear on the stat sheet. Matson routinely won one-on-one puck battles, negated icing calls by beating the defender to the faceoff dot, and was not hesitant to go into the corners and scrum for the puck. Matson always leads by example for this Minnesota team, and in the season's biggest game against the team's biggest rival the captain did not back down. Matson's grit, heart, and willingness to outwork and outlast the Sioux were key reasons that the Gophers won the game. Taylor Matson does not have the skill of a Nick Bjugstad, the speed of a Nate Condon or the skating ability of a Ben Marshall. What he does have, though, is the ability to work harder than anyone on the ice, and his hard work is rubbing off on the rest of his teammates. He is a big reason that the attitude around this Minnesota team has shifted, and it was his will more than anyone else's that pushed the Gophers to victory. Matson played an outstanding game on Friday night, and although he was kept off the score sheet he earned the well-deserved number one star of the game.
Gophers vs. Sioux, Saturday Night at 7:30
The Gophers take on the Sioux again tonight at 7:30. Can Minnesota avoid the costly penalties that racked up in Friday's matchup, or will they continue their winning ways and use their offensive depth to down North Dakota once again? My prediction: 4-3 Gopher victory. Drop the puck!