Gophers Head to Break Atop Big Ten Standings

Gophers score first and hold on to beat Wolverines 3-2

Ann Arbor, Mich.—Every time the Gophers and Wolverines are set for a tilt Don Lucia talks about the Michigan 10-minute game, and how fast the maize and blue come out of the gate—especially when it’s at Yost Ice Arena. Minnesota (7-8-0, 3-1-0) weathered the storm Saturday, got on the board first, and then held on for a 3-2 win over No. 9 Michigan (9-3-3, 2-1-1) in front of 5,369.

The win gave Minnesota a split on the weekend and will keep them atop the Big Ten Standings through 2015—a nice feeling to take into the holidays after their 8-3 loss on Friday night.

“Biggest thing was last night—it was pretty embarrassing game for us,’ said Vinni Lettieri. “The way our coaches handled it this morning was very professional. They were very constructive towards us.”

The team doesn’t normally hold a Saturday morning meeting, but Lucia wanted to change it up for the first time this season and try to get the bad taste out of their mouths as soon as possible. The coach told ESPN 1500’s Frank Mazzocco that the longer than normal meeting wasn’t about yelling and screaming, but sharing video clips to show his team they needed to dig in more.

“It was sort of all about just competing,” said Jake Bischoff. “I think we didn’t really show up last night and give it really everything we had. Tonight we came out, worked hard for sixty minutes and ended up getting the job done. It definitely feels really rewarding.”

The Gophers withstood getting outshot 9-2 early and were forced to kill off two penalties before getting their own 10-minute game started. After a skirmish in front of the Minnesota net, the officials decided that two Michigan players were too eager with their cross checks on Nick Seeler and Jack Glover, and put the Gophers on the power play. Vinni Lettieri and Jake Bischoff passed the puck back and forth at the top of the Minnesota power play moving a Wolverine out of the shooting lane. Bischoff then unleashed a one-timer into the upper right corner for his third of the season at 15:32.

The Gophers continued a strong second half of the period and a Bischoff point shot went off a screening Hudson Fasching for his eighth goal of the season giving Minnesota a 2-0 lead at 18:23.

Minnesota scored first for the sixth time this season, they’re 5-1 in those games, with the only loss coming to Minnesota State in OT on November 15, 2015.

The Big Ten’s leading scorer Kyle Connor cut the lead to one 11:53 with his 10th goal of the season and then tied the game 1:34 into the third period. However, the Gophers got an immediate response on the next shift. Lettieri carried the puck through the neutral zone, made a soft chip around the defenseman, regained the puck, and then slipped a snap shot short side for his second goal of the season at 1:46.

Lucia told Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco on ESPN 1500 after the win that Lettieri had been playing well and just wasn’t getting rewarded with much offense, but it was a big goal to answer the very next shift. Lettieri said the team was just more focused on their first three steps, fore-checking or back-checking.

The team also got a great response from their goaltender Saturday night. Eric Schierhorn gave up four goals on 10 shots Friday, but responded making 33 saves Saturday including a big one on JT Compher after Michigan pulled their goalie for the extra attacker.

“I give Eric a lot of credit, he came back and played like he has most of the season. You have to have that in college hockey, everything is so close, he certainly gave us a chance,” said Lucia.

“[Yost is] not an easy place to win, last year we couldn’t get out of here with a win,” said Lucia to Mazzocco after the win. “The goal coming in was to be ahead of Michigan when we left, and we were able to do that today.”

Golden Nuggets: Michigan’s Michael Downing was assessed a five-minute major for his hit on Connor Reilly. @cjzero captured the hit here: Then later Niko Porkos was assessed a penalty for his elbow on Jack Ramsey.… Lucia also highlighted the play of freshman Ryan Norman for his play Saturday and called out AJ Michaelson for a good weekend…he also told Frank and Wally that he wished his team a Merry Christmas after the win, but he threw in another word between them that he wouldn’t share with the radio audience. The Gophers have finals next week, and don’t play an opponent until the Mariucci Classic starting on New Year’s Day. Minnesota plays UConn on Friday night, and then will play one of Harvard or Ferris State on Saturday night.