The Gophers’ search for an identity started well in Friday night’s season opener. Speed factored into nearly everything they did well in a 6-0 rout of Mercyhurst in the opening round of the Ice Breaker Tournament.
Breakaways continued to develop for the Gophers, and the goals eventually started piling up in front of an announced crowd of 9,196 at Mariucci Arena.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage for us,” said Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox, who made 25 saves for his fourth shutout. “You can tell we have a lot of speed coming in this year with the freshmen. And [Nate] Condon and all [the returners] are fast.”
The scoring began in what Wilcox calls “Rau’s office” on the power play. Junior co-captain Kyle Rau waited patiently on the glove side of Mercyhurst goalie Jordan Tibbett and tapped in a 2-footer early in the first period.
Rau has a knack from scoring from that area.
He and Sam Warning each finished with three points, a goal and two assists apiece. Mike Reilly collected two points.
Six different players scored goals. Seth Ambroz, Justin Kloos, Reilly and Michael Brodzinkski had the other four.
The most impressive, and what might remain as one of the fanciest goals scored all season, came off the stick of Ambroz. The junior forward’s breakaway shot ricocheted off the post back into his hand. Despite skating past the net, he dropped the puck and backhanded it through his legs, where it found a Mercyhurst defender’s skate and bounced into the net.
Coach Don Lucia and Wilcox joked that it was something only Ambroz could have pulled off. The goal got a lot of laughs in the locker room, Wilcox said.
“Right now we need more juniors to step up. … It was good to see the three juniors score first,” Warning said.
Like many teams will be this year, the Lakers were bigger and older than the Gophers. In an attempt to offset any advantage in those areas, the Gophers were aggressive pushing the puck up ice. The speed-oriented game plan kept Mercyhurst on its heels.
Throughout these transitions, Kloos and Taylor Cammarata, both freshmen, were able to show off their speed. Warning was also quick and impressive on the ice despite sitting out last week’s exhibition for precautionary reasons.
Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said this game wasn’t as bad as 2003, referring to the last time the two teams met (a 9-2 Gophers victory), but he said this year’s Gophers did not disappoint.
It would have taken a perfect effort on the Lakers’ part to stay in the game, Gotkin said.
The Gophers got into penalty trouble early, but the penalty killing never broke down. Condon was at the center of many of the Gophers’ six successful kills of Lakers’ power plays.
“This team is a little bit deeper [in speed] than last year,” Lucia said. “We got up and down the rink pretty good tonight.
“But at the same time, how is conditioning going to factor in this early in the season? And, on opening night, there is a little extra in Game 1.”