MINNEAPOLIS- New lines and a new attitude helped Minnesota get the in-state monkey off of its back.
A night removed from the team’s worst performance of the season, the Gophers came back to defeat Minnesota State at home 1-0 to earn a split in the two-game non-conference series. Sophomore goaltender Eric Schierhorn, pulled in Mankato on Friday, made 23 saves for his second shutout in three games.
“It feels great. We played a good game. It felt like we were pretty much in control from the start,” said lone goal scorer Justin Kloos after the game. “They made a pretty good push in the third, but shots after two periods were (31-12). We just came out with good jump and we felt good.”
The Gophers (5-3-2, 0-0-0 Big Ten) entered Saturday’s home-and-home series finale 1-15 against the four other Minnesota schools dating back to November 14, 2014. Some of the games were close defeats or blown leads.
Friday’s 4-1 defeat on the road was not one of them. The coaching staff was not happy with Minnesota’s effort against the Mavericks (8-5-1, 5-4-1-0 WCHA).
“I thought I was going to get put on waivers or something,” said Schierhorn, who matched his freshman total with his third shutout of the season. “We got embarrassed in their barn and just came out absolutely flat and were flat the whole game. It was good to bounce back.”
Head coach Don Lucia completely mixed up the lines, trying to find an answer. Kloos was placed with Tyler Sheehy and Connor Reilly due to past history last season. Jack Ramsey earned a spot on the second line after being a cornerstone on the team’s “Trench Line” and freshman Joey Marooney made his Minnesota debut.
After a scoreless first period, Kloos broke through for Minnesota 2:46 into the second with his first goal in five games. The Gopher captain followed up on chances by Sheehy and Mike Szmatula by burying the rebound with two seconds remaining on Minnesota’s power play.
“Personally I’ve had quite a few shots in the first 8 or 9 games and it was good to see one go in,” said Kloos. “Their goalie was playing great and he played good last night.”
Minnesota State goaltender Jason Pawloski stood tall when needed, stopping 37 shots and keeping the Mavericks in the game until the final whistle.
“We needed to give him a little run support. I thought he was outstanding,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings about Pawloski. “He made probably 4 or 5 that he shouldn’t have.”
While the Mavericks had its best chances of the night in the third period, Minnesota kept its in-state rival to the outside. The Gophers buckled down to block shots late and won needed face-offs that haven’t always been there as Minnesota was able to hold on for the win.
Most of all the home team buckled down on special teams and went 4 for 4 on the penalty kill Saturday.
“Guys were selling out and they made my life easy,” said Schierhorn. “We cleared guys out in front of the net and I was able to look around a couple screens, which I didn’t do last night.”
Minnesota travels to Boston next weekend. The Gophers play Northeastern on Friday before visiting Boston College Sunday afternoon.
“We have to find out who our 12 forwards are. If we have a guy that’s not scoring and not hitting and not blocking a shot, you’re not going to play,” Lucia said. “Simple as that.”
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