MINNEAPOLIS – Unlike earlier this season, No. 7 Minnesota came out fast on a Friday night. But No. 9 Clarkson matched their intensity, meaning the first goal would probably go a long way toward a victory.
It certainly did, and it allowed the Golden Gophers to open up more offensively as they defeated the Golden Knights 3-1 on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Scott Reedy’s goal opened the scoring with five and a half minutes left in the second, and Clarkson just couldn’t get an answer despite testing Gophers goaltender Eric Schierhorn all night long. Schierhorn made 27 saves, narrowly missing his 10th career shutout.
“Hard-fought game, hard-fought win like I expected it to be,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “I knew they were a good team. Eric gave us an opportunity early and I thought we got better as the game went on.”
Minnesota also played much better on special teams Friday, taking just one penalty on the night and snapping a lengthy power-play skid dating back through their series at North Dakota last weekend and to their second game against Penn State two weeks ago.
“We talked about it; our discipline was good tonight,” Lucia said. “Hopefully that will continue. You just can’t play as much shorthanded as we did last weekend; certainly not a recipe for success.”
The Knights, after some early sloppy defensive zone play by the Gophers, had chances to draw first blood but Schierhorn stood strong, making 10 of his saves in the first period to keep CU off the board.
Clarkson head coach Casey Jones doesn’t believe his team played too well after the first period.
“I thought we had a good first period; I thought we didn’t simplify our game after that. I thought our puck movement tonight was a little bit slow,” Jones said. “I thought our best scoring chances didn’t hit the net. Just wasn’t going our way tonight.”
Both teams came oh-so-close to scoring continuously in the second period, but Minnesota finally put the first one on the board late in the period as Reedy, who returned to the Gophers lineup after missing three games, got his second of the year. Casey Mittelstadt, who had the first assist on the Reedy goal, also returned to the lineup after missing the last game of the UND series with a shoulder injury.
“They’re obviously really good players,” said Minnesota forward Brent Gates. “We have guys who stepped up and played well in their spots, but you go down two good players like that, it’s always tough. To have them back was great, and obviously they had good games.”
Minnesota upped their lead to a pair when Rem Pitlick somehow found an opening short-side to the right of CU goaltender Jake Kielly. A minute and a half later, CU defenseman Kelly Summers tripped Minnesota’s Jack Ramsey as he came in on a break, putting the Gophers back on the power play. Gates sniped home a one-timer from the top of the right circle with 12 seconds left in the advantage, snapping Minnesota’s 0-for-14 skid on the power play.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit numbers-wise, but we’ve been working on it and we felt one coming,” Gates said.
“It was nice to get the one. Hopefully that will continue to give us confidence,” Lucia said. “I thought we moved the puck pretty well. We came up the ice with some authority in our entries.”
The Golden Knights avoided the shutout when Nic Pierog scored with 1:18 left. Kielly, an Eden Prairie native and the only Minnesotan in the Clarkson starting lineup, made 25 saves.
Jones believes his team will have to come out fast on Saturday night if they are to leave Minneapolis with the split.
“I thought the first period we had the puck down low a lot and we got away from that as the game went on,” he said. “We need to be a little smarter and play our game and hopefully that will be the case tomorrow night.”
Lucia agrees, and he expects the Knights to do just that.
“I’m sure they’re going to respond with a great effort tomorrow, and we’re gonna have to play with the same tenacity we did the last couple of periods,” he said.
MINN goal at 14:32: Scott Reedy (2). Assisted by Casey Mittelstadt (3) and Jack Glover (2).
MINN goal at 7:04: Rem Pitlick (3). Assisted by Mittelstadt (4) and Tyler Sheehy (3).
MINN power play goal at 10:21: Brent Gates (2). Assisted by Steve Johnson (2) and Tommy Novak (4).
CU goal at 18:42: Nic Pierog (2). Assisted by Brett Gervais (2) and Grant Cooper (1).
Power plays: CU 0-1, MINN 1-5.
Shots on goal: CU 27, MINN 28.