MINNEAPOLIS- The growing pains were going to be there this season. Both coaches and players expected them to come. Six University of Minnesota freshmen debuted in Saturday's opener along with transfer Nick Seeler making his first Gopher appearance.
One was freshman goaltender Eric Schierhorn, who got the nod based on his past USHL experience. Going against a veteran Vermont team picked to finish in the middle of Hockey East and having 10 upperclassmen in its lineup, Schierhorn was calm and collected. He made 24 saves, focusing his rebounds away from opposing players.
Schierhorn was able to keep everything out of the net except for two poor plays. With no help offensively, both cost him and the Gophers in a home shutout loss to open the year.
Vermont (1-0-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) got two goals from Mario Puskarich and the Catamount defense did the rest, defeating Minnesota 3-0 in the United States Hall of Fame Game at Mariucci Arena.
Junior goaltender Mike Santaguida made 24 saves to earn his 5th career shutout.
"Vermont is a good team. They had great structure in their game defensively. They always had three or four guys back," Minnesota (0-1-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) head coach Don Lucia said. "We didn't have some great rhythm coming out of our zone or the neutral zone. I didn't think we did a great job with our puck support making 10 or 15 foot passes. We were trying to make longer passes that weren't going to be there."
In a season opener where new was a key word, the home team was still figuring out how to play together against a team whose structure made it tougher to get pucks in from the point once Vermont took the lead.
"There's a lot we can take away from this," defenseman Jake Bischoff said after the game, which began with the Gophers raising banners for the 2014-15 Big Ten regular season and conference tournament championships. "We got our feet wet. I think moving forward going into practice we'll be able to look at tape and work on a lot of our systems."
Puskarich, the 2013-14 Hockey East rookie of the year, turned the tide in the closing seconds of an otherwise even first period. Vermont's second-leading goal scorer from 2014-15 despite being sidelined for 12 games started his junior year right. His shot with 9.3 seconds remaining go off of Schierhorn's glove, over his head, and over the red line moments before the net was knocked off its pegs.
Puskarich made it 2-0 early in the third period off of a rebound. Senior Jon Turk added an empty net goal with a minute remaining to seal Vermont's second consecutive victory at Mariucci Arena.
"I liked the way (Schierhorn) looked tonight. He made some nice saves and had to fight off a couple difficult shots," Lucia said. "He gave up two. He did his job giving up two."
New lines, missed opportunities, and a power play that went 0-4 and missed chances to take the lead didn't help either. Communication is still a work in progress, said captain Justin Kloos. Players spent parts of the game trying to figure out how to play with one another and against Vermont's system.
There were chances. Connor Reilly and Kloos each had four shots on goal. Lucia juggled the lines in the third in order to find more chemistry. However, in general the team didn't test Santaguida as much as they wanted.
"Too many turnovers from the start and ultimately that killed our offense," Kloos said. "Obviously we didn't come in tonight expecting to lose. Obviously we were hoping the growing pains maybe would have ended up a different way. We got to learn from it - it's a long season - so we just got to get back to work and give ourselves a chance to win next weekend."
Minnesota was shut out in its season opener for the first time since 2009-10. It's the first shutout loss for the Gophers since November 2014.
Minnesota next plays Minnesota Duluth in a home-and-home series. The Gophers host UMD on Friday. Minnesota Duluth returns the favor Saturday in Duluth. Both games begin at 7:00 p.m. CT and will air on Fox Sports North.
UVM- Mario Puskarich (1) (Brady Shaw, Alexx Privitera 19:50)
UVM- Mario Puskarich (2) (Trey Phillips 4:45)
UVM- Jonathan Turk (1) (Liam Coughlin 19:00 ENG)
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate