BEMIDJI – Ready or not, the Gophers men’s hockey team appears to be in line for No. 1 in the national polls. Sam Warning scored two more goals and Justin Kloos had a goal and two assists to keep the Gophers unbeaten with a 5-1 victory over Bemidji State at Sanford Center on Saturday night.
The No. 3-ranked Gophers improved to 4-0, and No. 1 Miami (Ohio) and No. 2 Wisconsin both lost over the weekend. The rankings will be released on Monday.
The Gophers’ ability to make adjustments put them in position for the top spot in the polls. For the second consecutive night, they started in a 1-0 hole after picking up early penalties. However, once again they cleaned up their play and on Saturday responded with five unanswered goals.
Coach Don Lucia isn’t so sure his team is ready for No. 1, though. He’s seen high-quality teams in the past at Minnesota and said this team still has a ways to go to reach that level.
“We’ve got a lot of holes in our team right now. We’ve had elite teams, this team is not elite yet,” he said. “We’ve beaten teams we’re supposed to beat. It’s nice to start out 4-0 nonconference, but … the competition will really step up the next few weeks and we’ll really find out where we’re at.”
The Gophers looked lost in the opening minutes this game. Hudson Fasching picked up a tripping penalty 27 seconds into the game and Bemidji State scored at 2:37. Jeff Jubinville’s goal would be the Beavers’ lone goal of the night.
Warning made sure the Gophers went into the first intermission tied. His fourth goal of the season, a deflection that carried over the shoulder of Bemidji State goaltender Andrew Walsh and bounced into the net at 17:05, was lucky, he said. It was that luck that changed the direction of the game.
Taylor Cammarata’s first career goal put the Gophers in front for good. Warning, Mike Reilly and Kloos had the other goals.
“After the first intermission we had a little talk and got all the boys going,” Warning said. “We just tried to go out the next period and play hard and fast and get pucks to the net, and we got rewarded for it.”
Warning now leads the Gophers with nine points. His second goal, and fifth of the season, was off the slot on a backhand for a two-goal, 3-1 lead.
The Gophers got a brief scare when junior co-captain Kyle Rau left the game in the first period. He spent most of the period in the locker room getting a cut on his leg stitched up but returned on the first shift of the second period.
Rau’s absence hurt the flow of the Gophers lines, Lucia said. Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore also noticed a difference. Serratore thought his team kept up with the Gophers throughout the first period, but Warning’s “weird” goal hurt the Beavers momentum.
The second line of Kloos, Cammarata and Nate Condon had another productive night with six points. As the game progressed the Gophers began to dictate the pace of the game.
“I think we had to make a little adjustment going in the second and third, and we did that in the second and started winning more battles,” Reilly said. “I guess if we are [No. 1 next week], I guess everyone is going to start coming for us. We just have to prepare every weekend like we’re down in the rankings.”