Prior to Friday night, Michael Shibrowski had played 20 minutes as a Gopher. Prior to Saturday night, Adam Wilcox hadn’t played a minute as a Gopher.
Because of the inexperienced tandem in the University of Minnesota cage, coach Don Lucia has said it’s critical that the Gophers play well defensively in order to “ease their transition into college hockey.”
Well, the best defense in hockey is puck possession, and on back-to-back nights to complete an opening weekend sweep, the Gophers gave their goalies a smooth initiation by barely letting Michigan State sniff the puck and scoring at will because of it.
On the night a banner was dropped from the Mariucci Arena rafters to honor the school’s 13th MacNaughton Cup, the Gophers followed Friday’s 5-1 victory over the Spartans with a lopsided, men-against-boys, 7-1, pummeling.
Seven different Gophers scored goals, 15 of 18 skaters recorded points and Wilcox, a freshman from South St. Paul, had to make only 10 saves for his first career win.
The triumph was the 599th of Lucia’s career. He’ll have a chance to become the ninth coach in college hockey history to reach 600 wins Friday when the Gophers travel to Houghton to face Michigan Tech in the first of consecutive games.
Lucia has also coached at Alaska-Fairbanks and Colorado College during a 26-year head coaching career, and 320 of his wins have come at Minnesota, where he’s beginning his 14th season.
In Friday’s rout, the Gophers struck three times in the first 13 minutes, 38 seconds, to make Shibrowski’s first Gophers start easier.
That was nothing. Saturday, they gave Wilcox a three-goal cushion by the 7:41 mark and scored four times in the first.
Erik Haula, often the “forgotten” Wild prospect despite leading the Gophers in scoring last season, scored 85 seconds in on a great individual effort after the Spartans bungled the puck inside the center-ice referee’s crease.
Then, Nick Bjugstad and Tom Serratore scored two minutes apart.
The Bjugstad goal, as the kids say, was sick. In what’s got to be one of the easiest goals Bjugstad will ever score, linemate Kyle Rau set him up with what looked like hockey’s version of an alley-oop.
Christian Isackson raced into the offensive zone and hit the brakes just inside the blue line so he could wait for Rau, who was coming off the bench. Isackson floated a pass over, and Rau drove inward and set up Bjugstad for the tic-tac-toe tap-in.
The goal ultimately became Bjugstad’s second winning goal in as many nights and sixth of his career.
Ryan Reilly, making his college debut, set up the third goal. The freshman flew by a Spartans defender and put a puck at the net. Serratore buried the rebound of Justin Holl, a defenseman who skated mostly at forward Saturday.
Then, with 54 seconds left in the period, Ben Marshall scored his second goal in two nights after Haula set him up with a behind-the-back, backhanded pass.
The Gophers outshot the Spartans 10-3 in the first, but Wilcox set the tone 55 seconds in when he gloved down Matt Berry’s point-blank try after a turnover. Later in the period, Wilcox robbed Berry again from the goalmouth.
The Gophers continued to roll, with Rau scoring 30 seconds into the second after his former Sioux Falls (USHL) linemate, Isackson, valiantly won a board battle. Nate Condon wheeled by Jake Chelios to cap the scoring later in the period before freshman Brady Skjei one-timed his first career goal in the third.
Haula, Rau, Isackson, Skjei, Holl and captain Zach Budish had two points apiece