Anchorage, Alaska — Minnesota completed a weekend sweep of Alaska schools Sunday by defeating Alaska Fairbanks 6-3 with 13 Gophers contributing points in front of 1,682 at Sullivan Arena.
Tyler Sheehy had two goals, Mike Szmatula had two assists, and Anchorage native Eric Schierhorn had an assist and made 17 saves for Minnesota (2-0-0) during their win against the Nanooks (1-1-0).
“I knew it would be a more difficult game for us tonight, and they forced us to play at a high level,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia.
Minnesota got scoring from each of their four lines both games this weekend. Brent Gates Jr. added another goal to give him three on the weekend, Ryan Zuhlsdorf scored again to give him goals in back-to-back nights after not scoring at all in the USHL last season, and Vinni Lettieri had the other Gopher goal.
The Gophers took six penalties, including four obstruction calls, putting their penalty kill unit to the test against Fairbanks. Minnesota ranked 56th out of the 60 NCAA teams last season, killing penalties at 77.6%. However, the Gophers killed 10 of 11 penalties this weekend and Sheehy and Justin Kloos each tallied short handed goals.
“Fairbanks had some good pushback, and made it difficult on us,” said captain Kloos. “We didn’t have our best stuff tonight, but we were able to gut it out and get a win.”
The Gophers went 0-5 on the power play during the weekend, but the first power play group with Jake Bischoff, Kloos, Szmatula, Sheehy, Tom Novak and second power play group with Steve Johnson, Rem Pitlick, Connor Reilly, and Leon Bristedt were able to gain the zone consistently and produce quality scoring chances on every opportunity.
“We wanted desperately to get two wins out of here, it wouldn’t have been a good weekend had we split,” said Lucia to Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco during the post-game. “After what we did non-conference last year, you got to start to get some wins.”
Lucia expects to do some line shuffling after this weekend based on how guys played against Anchorage and Fairbanks. Jack Ramsey was out of the lineup Sunday, but it wasn’t because of his play on Friday, and Lucia thought the sophomore did enough against the Seawolves and specifically on the penalty kill to warrant his place in the line-up. The coach also thought Gates Jr. played well and his three-goal weekend warranted elevating his place on the line charts.
Minnesota’s next contest is against the U.S. Under-18 Team with Gopher commits Nate Knoepke and Scott Reedy at Mariucci Arena on Friday, Oct. 14. Jack Glover will be available to play in the exhibition, and Lucia expects his defensemen to continue to have to prove themselves to stay in the top six. The Gophers then get into the official regular-season home opener against St. Cloud State on Friday, Oct. 21.