Minneapolis, MN– On a night when the forward lines for the Gophers were malleable, Minnesota’s standout goaltender was solid.
Two-time B1G goalie of the year Eric Schierhorn led the way once again for the No. 7 Gophers (4-3-0 Overall, 1-1-0 B1G), making 26 saves and holding the No. 9 Clarkson Golden Knights (4-2-1 Overall, 0-0-0 ECAC) scoreless for nearly 59 minutes to help earn a 3-1 victory in an important non-conference tilt.
Gopher coach Don Lucia frequently talks about the ten-minute game, but it was again Minnesota’s opponent that had the jump coming out of the gate. Schierhorn came up with three or four big saves in the first period while the Gophers found their footing, and towards the end of the frame Minnesota was able to slowly turn the chances in their favor.
A late-first period power play gave a Minnesota the opportunity to improve on their wretched PP numbers (just 9.7% conversion rate coming into the game, including 0-11 in Grand Forks the previous weekend), but again the Gophers couldn’t convert and the first ended scoreless.
The Gophers earned a few more power plays early in the second, including a solid 34 seconds of two-man advantage, but even with the 5 on 3 Minnesota could not find the twine and settled into the middle of the second locked in a 0-0 battle.
The Gophers were able to get on the board first at 14:32 of the second, when freshman Scott Reedy, in his first game back after a three-game absence, put home a rebound for his second goal in the Maroon and Gold to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Casey Mittelstadt and Jack Glover assisted on the Reedy goal, and the Gophers took their 1-0 lead into the locker room for the second intermission.
Despite the 1-0 lead, coach Lucia mixed up all the forward lines for the third period, trying to find a combination that would produce more quality chances. Last season’s 4th line center Darian Romanko has been seeing ice time in increasingly higher leverage positions, but it was a surprise when he lined up at center ice to start the third period with Tyler Sheehy and Tommy Novak on his wings. Lucia also skated Reedy, Mittelstadt and Pitlick together, which was a line that skated together to start the season before Reedy’s injury.
The tinkering seemed to work, as Minnesota struck with two goals in the middle of the third period, including their first power play goal in two weeks, to salt the game away. Rem Pitlick scored the game winner 5-on-5 at 7:04 of the final stanza, while Bent Gates’ one-time slapper from the right circle snuck through the Clarkson goalie on the power play at 10:21 to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead and some breathing room on the scoreboard. Mittelstadt and Sheehy assisted on Pitlick’s goal, while Johnson and Novak got the helpers on the Gates power play marker.
Clarkson broke Schierhorn’s shutout bid with just 78 seconds remaining in the third, as captain Nic Pierog’s second-effort shot got through Schierhorn and got Clarkson on the board. The goal would be their lone tally, though, and in the end the Gophers emerged 3-1 victors.
The two teams square off again Saturday evening, where special teams will be a big focus. Coming off a 1-for-5 performance in Friday’s game, Minnesota’s power play improved to a miserable 11.4% on the season. If the Gophers can find their touch on the man advantage, they could start breaking games open and stop having to rely on superhuman efforts from their all-conference goaltender night in and night out.
Saturday’s contest can be seen on Fox Sports North Plus, heard on iHeart Radio, and streamed on BTN2GO.