Minneapolis, Minn.–Minnesota returned from their 20-day winter break with some rust on their structure, but none on their skill. Brent Gates Jr. tallied his first collegiate hat trick, Leon Bristedt scored a bar down snipe, and Justin Kloos added an empty netter in a 5-1 win over Mercyhurst to open the Mariucci Classic in front of 9,910.
The #11 Gophers (10-5-2, 3-1-0) haven’t won their hosted tournament since 2012 and were guarding against a letdown in the tournament opener to the Lakers (7-10-1, 7-6-1).
“At times it was a pond hockey game out there, so we had to get some structure back to our game as it went on,” said Don Lucia. “The third period we did a little bit better job, and we can build on that, and be a bit more consistent tomorrow throughout our lineup.”
Bristedt was named the number two star of the game for his one goal, two assist night and Lucia said his jump and energy was noticeable from the bench.
“The first half of the year, he got into some trouble just giving pucks away, breaking down in the offensive zone,” said Lucia. “But he’s done a much better job over the last month of making some better decisions. I think now you’re going to see those offensive numbers take off for him.”
The Swede has six goals and seven assists on the season and said despite the score, his team still has a lot of things to work on going into the second half.
“We gave up a lot of odd man rushes. I don’t know how many shots we blocked, but it’s still an issue with our team. It’s still an issue that we’re a little on and off, we’re not consistent for 60 minutes,” said Bristedt. “We won and that’s great, but there’s a lot of things we can learn from this game too.”
Minnesota did block 12 shots on the night and most importantly killed off all six shorthanded situations. Eric Schierhorn made 27 saves on the night, including 11 while the Gophers were killing penalties, to get his 10th win of the season.
“Your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender, and I thought Eric’s play was the key to our penalty kill tonight,” said Lucia.
Mercyhurst’s only goal came off a stretch pass that got Derek Barach behind the Minnesota defense in the first period. The Lakers continued flying forwards out into the neutral zone, but Minnesota didn’t lose track of any of them the rest of the game.
Luke Notermann made his debut for Minnesota and didn’t look out of place getting an assist on Bristedt’s goal in the second period and blocking a shot that drew praise from his head coach.
“I thought he made good decisions with the puck and for his first game I thought he played confidently,” said Lucia. “He’s got a skill level, he scored a lot of points in high school… we’ve just been looking for some guys that can help us in our top nine from a scoring standpoint and we figured we need to give him a look to see what he can do.”
Seniors Taylor Cammarata and Connor Reilly were both scratched from the lineup. Reilly has no goals and five assists in 14 games this season, while Cammarata has one goal, five assists, and is -4 in 14 games.
“Some guys are putting pressure on some players that have played on a more regular basis. We wanted to play Luke, we wanted to reward guys that have played well, and Norman had a goal the last game he played, so I wanted him to stay in our lineup tonight,” Lucia said. “We’re searching for the right 12, we’re searching for another forward to play in our top nine. Guys have to produce when they’re in some of these frontline spots or we have to try other people.”
Minnesota will play Massachusetts in the championship game at 7pm Saturday. The Minutemen defeated Alabama Huntsville in overtime 2-1 Friday afternoon.