DULUTH – They talked about turning the tables in a suddenly lopsided rivalry. They talked about playing the “10-minute game.”
But when Don Lucia’s Gophers looked up Friday night, midway through the first period of their season opener against Minnesota Duluth, they were getting outshot 10-1 and trailed 1-0.
The sluggish start lasted about 33 minutes. Then, after coming alive with two second-period goals, they blew two third-period leads and watched Parker Mackay score in overtime, giving UMD a 4-3 victory before an announced sellout crowd of 7,203 at Amsoil Arena.
“I don’t know if we had the first-game shivers or what,” Gophers captain Tyler Sheehy said. “That’s supposed to come out in exhibition games, but we started slow. We weren’t making any plays.”
The Gophers, ranked No. 3 in the USCHO.com poll, were determined to set a new tone against No. 6 Minnesota Duluth, which has to replace 10 players from the team that lost the NCAA title game to Denver in April.
The Bulldogs had to replace their starting goaltender, five of their top six scorers and five of their top six defensemen. But that didn’t stop them from extending their winning streak against the Gophers to eight, dating to 2014.
“The numbers don’t lie; they’ve got our number these last few years,” Sheehy said. “We were really hoping to change that tonight.”
The game was part of the college hockey’s annual Ice Breaker Tournament, which features four teams that played in last season’s NCAA tourney. On Saturday, the Gophers will face Union, which lost Friday’s other semifinal to Michigan Tech 6-3.
Lucia will look for his veteran players to put Friday behind them quickly.
“I thought our key guys, older guys, kind of struggled tonight, and that was probably my biggest surprise,” he said. “Some of our forwards up front that have a lot of experience, they just didn’t play confident with the puck.
“They threw it away at times, and I think they can be a lot better [Saturday].”
The Gophers put themselves in an early hole after Leon Bristedt (tripping) and Mike Szmatula (hooking) took penalties 16 seconds apart, giving the Bulldogs a 5-on-3 power play. Minnesota nearly killed it off, but freshman Mikey Anderson scored, giving Minnesota Duluth the lead.
With seven minutes remaining in the second period, UMD was outshooting the Gophers 25-7. But Sheehy found Tommy Novak on the doorstep, tying the score, and Scott Reedy scored on the power play off a pass from fellow freshman Casey Mittelstadt.
Down 2-1, UMD tied it 23 seconds into the third period on a goal by Riley Tufte.
Jack Ramsey put the Gophers back in front with a high shot past Bulldogs sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard. But UMD tied it again 40 seconds later, when Joey Anderson sent a backhanded shot past Eric Schierhorn.
Lucia and Ramsey both praised Schierhorn’s overall performance. In the second period, Karson Kuhlman broke free on a shorthanded breakaway, and Schierhorn robbed him with a pad save at the post.
Schierhorn finished with 40 saves, compared to 18 for Shepard, as the Bulldogs outshot the Gophers 44-21.
But two minutes into overtime, the Gophers missed a chance in the neutral zone to push the puck past UMD’s defensemen. The Bulldogs countered with a rush. Mackay took a pass from Avery Peterson and skated to Schierhorn’s right.
Mackay flipped the puck toward the net, and it hit Schierhorn’s glove before rolling in.
“He had a sharp angle,” Schierhorn said. “I thought I had it covered off, and I think I did. I think it just hit the angle on my glove weird.”
A bad break, and even with his teammates’ praise, this wasn’t enough to soothe Schierhorn.
“I was happy with the way I played, but you can’t let up four goals,” Schierhorn said. “That’s just kind of the bottom line.”