Playing against a top-ten team Friday night in Michigan, the best present on this Valentine's Day Minnesota could give itself would be to snap a two game skid.
Bouncing back and getting five goals to end another drought is a bonus.
Four separate Gopher freshmen scored - including Gabe Guertler's first collegiate goal to put the team ahead by two in the third period - and the team survived a late charge by Michigan to win Friday's series opener 5-3. He wasn't alone in bouncing back. Taylor Cammarata (New York Islanders) scored six seconds after a Wolverines goal cut the lead in half.
"It was nice to get back and score some goals," Minnesota (20-4-5, 9-2-2-0 Big Ten) head coach Don Lucia said. "A good, satisfying win anytime you beat a good opponent."
The five goals were important. In the four previous Big Ten conference games Minnesota had only scored five times. It wasn't easy at times as Michigan (14-8-3, 6-4-1-1 Big Ten) found its footing in the final 40 minutes. The visitors got better the longer the game continued and both defenses were tested.
Michigan, however, can't say the same about the opening period. The Wolverines were out-shot 16-5 and struggled to create any offense. After falling behind both nights on first period goals last weekend and only scoring twice, Lucia stressed coming out and controlling the first ten minutes offensively.
The Gophers did just that against a Michigan team that also looked to bounce back from a loss to Penn State last Saturday. Almost the entire first 4 minutes of the game was spent in the Wolverines zone, which foreshadowed a first period which saw Minnesota control puck possession and a lopsided 33-9 shot chances.
"I thought our team was ready," said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "We skated this morning, we said all the right things and we just didn't start on time. Their team was flying and we were chasing."
For a minute it seemed like a repeat of the past couple weeks, though. Justin Kloos beat Wolverines goalie Steve Racine for his tenth goal of the season 5:29 into the game. He was the only one. Justin Holl (Chicago Blackhawks) hit the post and Minnesota had 3 power play chances, but after 20 minutes the Gophers only had a 1-0 lead.
Racine made 32 saves Friday.
Unlike the last couple weeks, goals finally came with a little extra effort. Hudson Fasching (Los Angeles Kings) made it 2-0 Minnesota 1:19 into the second when Sam Warning found him on a breakaway. Despite being hooked by Tyler Motte (Chicago Blackhawks), the freshman was able to poke the puck through Racine's wickets.
Sophomore Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets) made it 2-1 on the power play midway through the second with his 13th goal of the season, however, Cammarata took the face-off and killed any Michigan momentum.
"That was the biggest play of the game," Kloos said. "It was one goal at the time and a momentum changer. The puck drops and next thing you know Cammy's on a breakaway and slips it five hole. Great play by him and great to get that two goal lead back."
Six seconds seemed to be a theme. On the Gophers' sixth power play of the night, Seth Ambroz (Columbus Blue Jackets) tipped a Warning shot in for his team-leading 13th goal six seconds after J.T. Compher (Buffalo Sabres) went to the sin bin.
Compher made up for it just over a minute later with a power play goal of his own and by the time Zach Hyman walked in alone on Wilcox to cut the lead 2:47 in the final frame to 4-3, Michigan was controlling the game.
"I thought we got back to our game. We played harder, we created more and we made the game a real game," Berenson said. "Our team got going in the second and got better in the third."
Just like Minnesota's opening salvo, the Wolverines spent most of the first 5 minutes in the third period in the offensive zone. By the time the Gophers took its timeout with 14:02 remaining, the ice was slanted. That changed with Guertler's goal - the nation-leading 41st of the season by Minnesota's freshmen class - with 4:39 remaining.
"We were pretty excited for him," Fasching said about Guertler lighting the lamp; the first-ever Gopher goal by a Florida native. "It's awesome he got to score his first goal, and it was a really good goal, so we were happy for him."
Lucia added, "You get to this time of year and hope they're not freshmen anymore. It's mid-February and we had six freshmen forwards in our lineup tonight. They have to play, they have to make plays. Tonight they did."
Oddly enough, defense came through in a game that featured eight goals and was sloppy at times. Jake Parenteau saved an open net goal by Derek DeBlois in the second period. Wilcox saved a couple in the third and the Gophers blocked nine shots.
Both teams were physical in the first game the two teams played since November 2010. Michael Downing was ejected late for a hit to the head and there were several post-whistle scraps prior to the rematch tomorrow night at 7 p.m. CT. Fox Sports North has the TV coverage.
With the win and a Wisconsin loss, Minnesota is now 7 points up in the Big Ten regular season race. The Gophers lead Michigan by 9 points although it has two games (worth 3 points) in hand.
-Attendance was announced at 10,002. It's the first time Mariucci Arena officially had more than 10K this season.
-Gopher legend John Mayasich, whose #8 is the only retired number in team history, dropped the ceremonial first puck and was honored with a pregame video. Mayasich played in . The salute to Mayasich is part of Minnesota's Olympic celebration honoring the university's long-standing history at the Winter Games and the six Gopher hockey alums (4 men, 2 women) playing in Sochi. (Michigan has 3 men's hockey alums playing in the Olympics.)
Mayasich, Minnesota's all-time scorer, was a part of eight U.S. National Teams and won a silver medal in 1956 and gold medal in 1960.
-Three Stars: 1) Sam Warning 2) Gabe Guertler 3) Seth Ambroz
-The Minnesota women's team defeated Wisconsin 3-2 in Madison in a #1 vs. #2 match-up. Dani Cameranesi scored the game-winning goal with 10:58 remaining, which saw the Gopher women clinch the 2014 WCHA regular season title.
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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate