If there was one thing the University of Minnesota Hockey team struggled with last year, it was scoring goals. Apparently, scoring troubles are a thing of the past. The Gophers came out firing, scoring ten goals over the weekend series to secure two wins against the UMass Minutemen.
Friday: 5-3 Gopher Win
The Gophers started off on their heels in the first period, as UMass had the better of the play. However, a late powerplay goal by Jay Barriball got the team on the board, and they took a shaky 1-0 lead into the locker room.
Mike Hoeffel got his first goal of the season just 12 seconds into the second period, taking his own rebound and sliding the puck past UMass goalie Paul Dainton into the back of the net. UMass's Michael Pereira got the Minutemen back within one goal with a power play strike at 9:12 of the period, but Gopher defenseman Seth Helgeson's slapshot from the point at 14:14 of the period gave the Gophers a two goal cushion, which they maintained heading into the third.
The third period was an up-and-down affair, with both teams getting plenty of opportunities to score. UMass scored first in the period, drawing within one goal on another power play tally by Darren Rowe at 4:29 of the period. Freshman defenseman Justin Holl scored the goal that put the Gophers on top for good, rushing down the left wing and firing a wrister that beat Dainton at 11:59 of the period. UMass wouldn't go down easy, though, scoring another goal at 14:39 of the period to put the score at 4-3 and make the closing minutes scary for Gopher fans. The final nail in the coffin was a Zach Budish empty net goal at 19:41 of the period, clinching the first win of the season for the Maroon and Gold.
Saturday: 5-4 Gopher Win
It was a weekend of firsts for the Gophers. If Friday was the first win of the season, then Saturday would be the first sweep of the year. The Gophers opened on Saturday with their best period in several years, manhandling the Minutemen behind the strength of a Jay Barriball natural hat trick and firing 17 shots on net to enter the intermission with a 3-0 lead. The first period also saw UMass goalie Paul Dainton leave due to an undisclosed injury, causing backup Jeff Teglia to provide relief. Gopher goalie Kent Patterson stopped all seven shots he faced in the period.
The first period was one of the best Gopher periods in a long time, and the second was just as bad as the first was good. UMass bulged the twine three times, while the Gophers lone goal came at the hands of a Jacob Cepis breakaway. All in all, the Gophers were lucky to escape with a very tenuous 4-3 lead after two periods.
One thing the Gophers just could not seem to do last season was get a goal to expand the lead and put the game out of reach. While it didn't quite seal the victory, an early goal by Nico Sacchetti put the Maroon and Gold ahead by two goals, and although UMass scored with two minutes left to draw within one, the Gophers won comfortably by the final score of 5-4.
Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend
Yes, it's back: the Three Gopher Stars feature. After every weekend series, I will share the three stars of the weekend, the three players who made the difference in the game. Of course, since I have a staunch Gopher bias, all of the stars will be Gophers :).
Third Star: Jacob Cepis
Cepis was all over the ice against UMass (as usual), creating opportunities and generally hustling at 100 percent every shift. He is tenacious when he's on the ice and really has a knack of energizing the offense. A one goal/two assist weekend gets Cepis the third star.
Second Star: Seth Helgeson
Helgeson played excellent defense in both games against UMass and was a steadying force at the blueline all weekend. He was not afraid to throw his weight around, connecting multiple times with hard body checks. More importantly though, Helgeson was not afraid to fire the puck, rearing back and unleashing heavy slapshots from the point multiple times during the series. Helgeson was the team's best defenseman against the Minutemen, and he could play a big role for the team this year if he can be a force on both sides of the ice. Excellent defense, coupled with a big goal in Friday's tilt, gives Helgeson the nod as the No. 2 star.
First Star: Jay Barriball
This team goes as Jay Barriball goes. Never one to shy away from getting his nose dirty, Barriball scored the team's first goal this season on a garbage goal mucking at the side of the net and proceeded to score three more goals in the first period on Saturday. Barriball represents a full 40 percent of the team's goals so far, and he's going to need to score if the Gophers are going to have a chance to make some noise this season. Four goals and one assist give Jay Barriball the first star of the weekend.
All in all, a good weekend for the Gophers. While the team defense definitely needs to improve, the offense, a huge stumbling block the past two seasons, burst onto the scene in a big way. After only scoring more than five goals eight times last season, the Gophers opened with a pair of five goal games to start the year. The defense definitely needs to tighten up, with Gopher goalies Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson bailing out the team often, but the offense is encouraging. If the defense improves, which it should throughout the course of the season, this team should definitely be better than the previous year's version!