CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Minnesota head coach Don Lucia was not completely displeased with his team’s effort in a Friday night defeat at Northeastern, but it was a rather rapid turnaround at the start of Sunday’s contest with Boston College.
Sophomore Brent Gates Jr. scored just 34 seconds in, classmate Eric Schierhorn made 31 saves, and the Gophers came back from a second-period deficit to earn a 4-2 win over No. 4 Boston College at Kelley Rink ― the 700th of Lucia’s career.
“I thought we did a lot of good things on Friday, but we didn’t do enough. It’s the consistency factor,” Lucia said. “It all started with Eric in net. He was good throughout. Like he’s always done, he’s bounced back when he’s not happy with his game.”
With the win, Lucia became just the eighth coach in NCAA history to reach the 700-win mark, and the second in as many weeks after Norwich’s Mike McShane reached the milestone last Saturday.
Boston College’s Jerry York is the only coach in college hockey history to reach the 1,000-win plateau, and had high praise for the Gophers’ 18th-year boss.
“I coached against him when he was at Fairbanks, Colorado and now, of course, the Gophers,” York said. “Really one of the bright lights in our profession, so that was a significant win for him today.”
After allowing a goal to Northeastern in just 35 seconds in the first game of their Boston weekend, the Gophers were quick to trigger in this one as Gates took senior linemate Vinni Lettieri’s feed into the left circle where he whipped a wrist shot past BC freshman Joe Woll.
Minnesota held a 14-10 shot advantage in the frame, but BC scored the game’s next two goals and carried a 2-1 lead for much of the second period.
Sophomore Colin White was the first Eagle on the board just 2:10 into the middle frame. The Hanover, Mass., native cleaned up a rebound from freshman David Cotton’s shot, beating Schierhorn from just outside the left crease.
Matthew Gaudreau scored his fifth goal of senior year to lift the Eagles at the 4:34 mark, taking a feed from White through the middle of the slot for a shorthanded breakaway.
That was all the scoring BC could muster as it ultimately lost for the second time in three games after a six-game winning streak. Schierhorn made 21 of his 31 saves over the final two frames, including all ten in a third period over which the Eagles held a 10-8 shot advantage.
The response was a positive, but BC had several outstanding chances to pull out a better fate, including in the opening half of the first period when senior Ryan Fitzgerald broke ahead for one of the Eagles’ lone early chances.
“We tell our players to learn from every time we play a game,” York said. “One of the things we talked about was that our first ten minutes, we have to be sharper. And, bury some chances. We have some good chances and shot wide.”
After Lettieri had a goal called back due to goaltender interference, Tyler Sheehy leveled the Gophers with 1:52 to play in the second period, firing a wrister past Woll from the bottom of the left circle.
Lettieri bounced back and scored the ultimate game-winner at the 11:10 mark of the third period. After junior Mike Szmatula won a defensive zone draw, Gates got the puck and sent a long pass through the neutral zone to Lettieri who beat his defender and scored his sixth goal of the season on Woll.
“It was a strange winning goal for the Gophers,” York said. “An offensive zone faceoff for us, and one puck just caught the defender (Michael Kim) flat-footed and they went in for a clean breakaway. … In that case, the won draw hurt us because our defenseman was caught off guard.”
Szmatula, who spent his first two collegiate seasons at Northeastern, capped his return to Boston with an empty-net goal with 9.9 seconds to play.
Lucia was pleased with his team’s strong start, responding to BC’s two-goal run, and finishing the game on a positive note for Minnesota’s third straight win in the second game of a weekend.
“We took a punch back, which you know you’re going to have to against a quality team like BC. They’re such a good transition team, so it tends to be a track meet a little bit,” Lucia said. “I think that’s how our guys like to play too. I’m just glad we won a third period. … It’s nice to be able to get that third goal and finish it.”
“It was finally good to close it off here,” Lettieri said. “When we play games in the future, we’ve got to look back at this game and how we finished off the third period. That’s got to be our motto and mentality because that was a good team win for us.”
The milestone was not lost on Lucia, but reaching it in an important win for his team was even more important.
“When you do it for a long time, I guess it’s going to happen,” Lucia said. “It’s obviously a milestone to get to 700, but more than anything else I’m proud of our team to be able to come out and get a win, which we needed.”