MINNEAPOLIS -- For all the discussion and consternation about the seemingly dwindling audiences inside 3M Arena at Mariucci, there was plenty for those in attendance to roar about during the opening home series of the season for the Minnesota Gophers.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, Brannon McManus and Sammy Walker each produced a goal and an assist as the Gophers came from behind yet again, grabbing the lead in the third period and sweeping Niagara with a 4-2 win.
Nathan Burke got the game-winner on an extended power play, and Scott Reedy sealed the win with an empty net goal as the Gophers improved to 3-1-0, much to the noisy approval of the crowd in the building that was still only roughly half full.
“It’s exciting here in this building when you get going, and there’s nothing like winning two games in a row,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, noting that the first home sweep last season came in March, not October. “It took us the whole season last year to do it in the last series, and we got it done in our first series at home. It’s great for the guys to feel that energy and that excitement.”
Jared Moe had 20 saves for the Gophers, improving to 2-0-0 as a collegian.
On Saturday they got goals in quick succession in the second period to wipe out a one-goal lead by the Purple Eagles (0-2-0). Niagara got goals from Dylan Mills and Reed Robinson, along with 26 saves from goalie Chad Vetri in his first collegiate start.
The Eagles needed just 35 seconds and two shots on goal to take a lead in the opening minute of the opening period. Mills, Niagara’s lone Minnesotan, snapped off a wrist shot that eluded Moe’s glove hand. It was the first goal of the season for Mills, who is from Cottage Grove, Minn., and played prep hockey at Hill-Murray.
Things were going relatively well for the Eagles until midway through the second period, when they took back-to-back penalties, which was the opening the Gophers needed to take the lead. First Walker scored his team-leading third of the season on the power play, after a near-perfect cross-ice pass from Blake McLaughlin, to knot the game 1-1. Just 69 seconds later, McManus made a notable individual effort for his first goal of the season, winning the battle for a loose puck along the end boards. His initial shot was blocked by Niagara defender Zac Herrmann, but McManus got his own rebound and beat Veltri for a 2-1 lead.
“It’s great for McManus to get a goal. That’s fuel for him,” Motzko said.
McManus, a junior from Southern California, had 14 goals last season and was the team’s top returning goal-scorer. He said that the first goal, and the win, were important confidence boosters early in the season.
“Coach always says, ‘just get pucks deep and go to work,’” McManus said. “I kind of showed that right there, that coach is always right.”
The 2-1 lead held up until early in the third, when a bad turnover below the goal line left Moe unaided against two Eagles, and Robinson scored his first of the season to pull Niagara back even. Burke made it 3-2 when he scored just 32 seconds into the extended power play.
“Both nights our power play didn’t score and their power play did, and that ends up being the difference in the game,” said Niagara coach Jason Lammers. “A couple blow assignments by us on the two goals, so something we learned and want to get better at. But credit to them, they’ve got some nice players and they make you pay if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do.”
Veltri spent the game’s final three minutes on the bench in favor of an extra attacker until Reedy’s empty-net goal sealed it.
First period — 1. NU, Dylan Mills 1 (Kris Spriggs, Scott Persson), 0:35. Penalties — None.
Second period — 2. MIN, Sammy Walker 3 (Blake McLaughlin, Ryan Johnson), 10:20, (pp). 3. MIN, Brannon McManus 1 (Garrett Wait, Ryan Zuhlsdorf), 11:29. Penalties -- Zac Herrmann, NU (interference), 5:44; Mills, NU (boarding), 8:41; Walker, MIN (goaltender interference), 14:41; Walker, MIN (interference), 18:11.
Third period — 4. NU, Reed Robinson 1 (Cam Cook, Persson), 1:04. 5. MIN, Nathan Burke 1 (McManus, Walker), 5:09, (pp). Penalties — Ryan Cook, NU (5 minutes & game misconduct -- checking from behind), 4:40; Ben Meyers, MIN (tripping), 11:38.
Shots on goal — NU 9-7-6—22; MIN 13-6-11—30. Goalies — Chad Veltri, NU (30 shots-26 saves); Jared Moe, MIN (22-20). Power plays — NU 0-of-3; MIN 2-of-4. Referees — Cameron Lynch, Joseph Carusone. Linesmen — Johnathan Morrison, Matthew Gerlach. Att. — 7,802.