Erik Haula is scoring again. And a power-play goal from him is what the Gophers needed Friday.
The sophomore center scored the game-winner early in the third period as the Gophers edged Minnesota State Mankato 4-2 at Mariucci Arena. The victory, before an announced crowd of 9,542, kept Minnesota in first place in the WCHA.
Mavericks coach Troy Jutting summarized the game's turning point: "We missed a [short-handed] breakaway and they came down and scored. A huge momentum change."
It sure was.
Michael Dorr, a senior co-captain for the Mavericks, had the puck on his stick and was cruising down the slot unhindered with the score tied 2-2.
Near the hash marks, the ex-Gopher shot. "It went wide," said Gophers goalie Kent Patterson, who had 26 saves.
"When you score a short-handed goal it is a back-breaker for the other team," said Jutting, whose Mavericks had three coming in, all in the past six games.
Spared from being embarrassed, the Gophers' top power-play unit quickly set up and worked the puck around the perimeter to Haula. He scored on a one-timer from the right point.
"We work on those literally after every practice," Haula said. "Me, [Nick] Bjugstad and Schmitty [Nate Schmidt]. Just roll it around.
"Luckily, I was able to flutter one in. Their guy screened their goalie [Austin Lee] and it went straight in through his armpit. We got energy off the goal and they didn't have anything after."
Jake Hansen added an empty-net goal with 36 seconds left for the No. 4/5-rated Gophers (12-4-1, 9-2-0).
"Some nights you have to find a way to win," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "Now that Minnesota State has a healthier lineup, they are a much better team than their record."
The Gophers scored early in both the first and second periods to take 1-0 and 2-1 leads. Seniors Taylor Matson and Nick Larson had the goals.
But before each period ended, the Mavericks (3-11-1, 2-8-1) retaliated. Evan Mosey and Jean-Paul Lafontaine, on a power play, scored the visitors' goals.
The Gophers, who had lost the previous three Fridays, were fortunate to never trail in the game. The Mavericks seemed to have at least one good scoring chance on all five of the Gophers' power plays.
"They take a lot of chances offensively short-handed," Haula said. "We knew they were going to come. Also that creates more room for us. So it goes both ways. But definitely, we have to sharpen up [Saturday]."
The Gophers' power play was 1-for-5 and had just six shots.
"Our battle level was not real high," Lucia said. "Some of the stick battles we weren't winning. ... We were sloppy tonight in a lot of areas, and the power play was one of them."
"It kind of looked like a boring game," Haula said. "The pace of the game was slow. We dropped to their level and we were not able to play fast like we wanted to. Luckily we won."
Haula's goal was his ninth of the season and second in two games.
"[Erik] is a guy who got off to a great start and then went seven, eight games without a goal," Lucia said. "Sometimes a goal-scorer just needs that first one to get going."
Note: Bjugstad was honored Friday as the national player of the month for November. He scored nine goals and is the second Gophers player in a row to win. Patterson won it in October.