After watching his Gophers hockey team blow out Sacred Heart for the second night in a row, coach Don Lucia didn't leave Mariucci Arena with a clear picture of what his players are capable of doing. Saturday's 6-0 victory, though, did have plenty of value for a young team that will be finding its way in the weeks to come.
Four freshmen got their first college goals in the series, including Sam Warning, who finished with a goal and two assists Saturday. Sophomore forward Erik Haula followed his coach's instructions to shoot more, scoring two goals Saturday to cap a five-point weekend. Goaltender Kent Patterson, who had played 45 career games without getting a shutout, earned a pair of them by stopping all 40 shots he faced in the series.
The 19th-ranked Gophers showed their age with some sloppy play early in Saturday's game, but they pulled it together to win decisively. The competition gets tougher in a hurry, with a trip to Minnesota Duluth next weekend to kick off the WCHA season. As nice as it is to be 2-0, Lucia and his players said the confidence they gained in their opening weekend is just as meaningful to their long-term fortunes.
"I think we showed everyone how deep we are,'' said Haula, who fired a dozen shots on net in the two games and scored on three of them. "And it's good to get all the freshmen on board and prop up their confidence. We're really happy with the way things went.''
The Gophers outshot Sacred Heart 45-20 on Saturday, nearly identical to their margin in Friday's 9-0 rout. After Warning and Haula scored in the first period, freshman Ben Marshall and captain Taylor Matson stretched the lead to 4-0 with a pair of goals in a 27-second span early in the second.
Lucia used three players who sat out Friday's victory -- defenseman Jake Parenteau and forwards Nick Larson and Christian Isackson -- in Saturday's lineup. His top three lines remained intact, with the second line of Warning, Haula and Jake Hansen showing some firepower with three goals.
The Gophers were sloppy in the opening minutes, allowing Sacred Heart to get a handful of good scoring chances. They also looked disorganized on the power play, failing to score when they had a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Eight minutes into the game, Sacred Heart was outshooting them 7-3 -- but the Gophers got the final word.
Over the last 12 minutes of the period, they rang up 10 shots to the Pioneers' one and put two of them past goalie Andrew Bodnarchuk. Haula's strike from the slot, which came with just 38.8 seconds left before intermission, gave the Gophers some extra jump heading into the second period. Both Marshall and Matson slipped the defense to beat Bodnarchuk one-on-one, and the hapless Pioneers left Patterson with little to do for long stretches of time.
Hansen helped set up the Gophers' first three goals and finished the game with four assists, in addition to the goal and assist he earned Friday. He and his linemates accounted for six goals in the series.
"We have a young team, and we have to stay patient,'' Lucia said. "In the first period, we turned the puck over left and right. Then we got moving better and improved as the game went on.
"We know we're going to play a better opponent next week. It's good for us to have these games to gain some confidence.''