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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota holds on late to beat Minnesota-Duluth 4-3

Kyle Rau had 3 points (1G-2A) for his 7th career 3+ game while Dominic Toninato scored twice for the Bulldogs.

Kyle Rau (7) became the 49th Minnesota player to pass 125 career points Friday. He has scored a point in all 4 season openers.
Kyle Rau (7) became the 49th Minnesota player to pass 125 career points Friday. He has scored a point in all 4 season openers.
Matt Christians

Underneath the expectations that come with being the preseason top ranked team and scoring thirty seconds into the season opener was the simple fact that Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth both were playing game 1 of a 36 game regular season. Or that a game between the two teams would feature back and forth play regardless of the score.

Both were apparent throughout the opening game of the Ice Breaker Tournament, one which the Bulldogs nearly came back from a 3-0 deficit to win Friday afternoon.

Minnesota-Duluth scored twice in the third period and got a pair of goals by Dominic Toninato (Toronto Maple Leafs), but it wasn't enough as the Gophers defeated its in-state rival 4-3 at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

The Gophers play the winner of RPI/Notre Dame Sunday at either 12:00 p.m. ET (if RPI wins) or 3:30 p.m. ET (if Notre Dame wins). UMD will face the other team in the opposite slot.

(UPDATE: RPI defeated Notre Dame 3-2. Minnesota will meet the Engineers for the Ice Breaker title Sunday morning.)

Minnesota (1-0-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) came out strong with goals by senior forwards Sam Warning and Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) on the team's first two shots. The latter, set up by linemate Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) on an odd-man rush, came shorthanded 5:44 into the game.

Last year's leading goal scorer, Justin Kloos, got his first of the year on the power play to make it 3-0 4:01 into the second period.

Although a 3-0 lead can be a dominant one in hockey, the score didn't tell the whole story. Minnesota-Duluth (0-1-0, 0-0-0-0 NCHC) out-shot the Gophers throughout the game for the fourth consecutive time these two teams have met. UMD had its chances whether it was four power play chances in the first period or taking advantage of sloppy passes and defensive.

Eventually the Bulldogs took advantage.

With freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who made 18 saves, settled down, Minnesota-Duluth started to come back. Toninato, on the team's fifth power play, took a centering pass from Tony Cameranesi (Maple Leafs) with 6:39 remaining in the second for Minnesota-Duluth's first goal of the year. Fasching tipped a shot past Kaskisuo for the eventual difference maker with 1:15 left in the period, but the third was all UMD.

Andy Welinski (Anaheim Ducks) caught Adam Wilcox and the Gophers napping 25 seconds into the period and Toninato made it a one goal game less than four minutes later.

Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) was his on his normal level making 24 saves, including a pair of breakaways and several key stops in the third when the game was on the line.

Minnesota didn't look as good Friday as the score indicated when it was a rout given the penalties and sloppy passes, however, the Gophers did show signs in its fifth straight season opening win why Don Lucia's team is expected to contend for a national title.

Rau, the 49th Gopher to top 125 career points, finished with at least 3 points for the 7th time in his career. The entire first line shined on the sloppy Compton ice while a few defensemen were closer to midseason form. Minnesota's penalty kill shut down a UMD power play that had taken had advantage in a blowout win last season. Minnesota-Duluth had ten minutes in the start of the third period where the Bulldogs dominated, matching the Gophers' similar stretch to open the game.

Overall, both teams had moments where the best shined and both had some where it was apparent Friday was the opening game; one where freshmen were making their collegiate debuts. Both can look at moments where the repetition and chemistry of the season will be building blocks for when Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth meet again.

It was a game where the expectation of coming into a new season was the expectation met for both teams.

Updated 10/10 9:00 p.m CT to show the second semifinal score.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --