In a game against the service academy known for their flight, it was the team from the Gopher State who flew up and down the ice.
Four different Gophers scored Saturday night as #4 Minnesota (12-3-3, 6-3-3 WCHA) shut out Air Force (5-8-4, 4-4-2 AHA) 4-0. Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 18 saves for his third shutout of the season.
"Goalies can be rusty at the break," said Gopher head coach Don Lucia, whose team was playing their first game in 21 days. "(Wilcox) was spot on tonight and he'll have to be tomorrow."
Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) got the team on the scoreboard 6:58 into the game when he shot the puck off of Falcons forward Jason Fabian and into the net. When asked if he meant to do it, the junior (who was the only non-American on both teams) laughed and went with it.
"I thought it was a good bounce," Haula said. I just tried to slash it. I wasn't sure if there was anyone in front of the net.
Air Force head coach Frank Serratore, however wasn't so sure, saying, "maybe he just said that but guys like that process fast."
Serratore, who was coaching a team that features his son Tom, was all business during the game although one thing shook his concentration.
"It was kind of strange. I don't get caught up in stuff but looked up when he was starting," Serratore said about the pregame introductions. "I was in 'proud father' mode and I had to snap out of it."
The Serratores weren't the only family on and off the ice Saturday. While Minnesota was missing defenseman Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets), who currently is in Russia playing in the World Junior Championships, brother Ryan stepped up in front of his family. Ryan, who has been in and out of the lineup this season, utilized his speed to drive to the net and roofed a pass from Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres).
"When you play like that, you're to earn ice time," Lucia said about Reilly, who along with Isackson clicked all night.
It was the 21 year-old freshman's first goal as a Gopher and gave the team a 2-0 lead 5:34 into the second.
Despite being out-shot 24-10 in the first 40 minutes, Air Force still had chances to get back in the game; a point Frank Serratore lamented.
"We didn't put a scare in them. The script played out the way everyone expected it to. We never won a period."
Stephen Carew had two chances for the Falcons on a two-on-one and breakaway but both times Wilcox was able to stand tall. Along with Minnesota killing 3 penalties - including 1:50 of one to begin the third period - the Gopher goalie kept Air Force from swinging momentum back in their favor.
Minnesota eventually got a power play of their own and took advantage of their own chance. After Falcons goalie Jason Torf, who made 29 saves in defeat, kicked a Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) shot away, the sophomore forward grabbed his own rebound for his seventh goal of the year 12:05 in the third. Three minutes later, Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) got on the board for the final 4-0 score.
"You lose 2 offensive zone face-offs, if you are playing baseball, you've given them 5 outs," Serratore said.
For a team that was playing cute at times Saturday, it was telling that Minnesota's first three goals were a combined 10 feet. When they can be gritty and move the puck, they're a tough team to play. They'll need that against the defending national champions and team who knocked them out of the Frozen Four Sunday. As much as Minnesota respected an Air Force team that has won the Atlantic Hockey championship the last six years,their next opponents will be a measuring stick.
"We'll approach it like they're the number one team and national champions last year," Haula said about Sunday's game. "If you can't get fired up for that then..."
Minnesota and Boston College play again tomorrow at 7 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.