After a 20-day break, the Gophers were excited to play anybody on Friday -- even a hot team like Niagara.
The second-ranked Gophers, even without their top two scorers, rolled to a comfortable 5-1 victory over the Purple Eagles in the second game of the Mariucci Classic.
The Gophers (15-5-1) will play Northeastern, which beat Princeton in a shootout after a 3-3 tie, in Saturday's championship game.
"Missing a couple of guys --that gave us a little extra step in our game," said sophomore Erik Haula, who had his 10th goal of the season and one assist.
Forwards Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, who have 16 and 12 goals, respectively, were not in the lineup because they are competing for the U.S. team in the World Junior Championships in Canada.
"We didn't really worry about Bjugstad and Rau being gone," Haula said. "We have a lot of good players on this team. We knew it wasn't going to be a big issue."
It wasn't against Niagara, which was 3-0-3 in its previous six games. The Purple Eagles (5-6-6) had played nearly everybody close. They had been in seven one-goal games, plus in six ties.
But the Gophers took a 2-0 lead after only 3 minutes, 6 seconds in front of an announced crowd of 9,884.
Senior wingers Nick Larson and Jake Hansen scored for the Gophers 68 seconds apart on rebound goals.
"It was a great start," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, "and that is something we talked about that we want to do. People have talked about Fridays and we haven't scored as much."
The Gophers were 1-4 in their previous five Friday games.
"The emphasis was on shooting pucks," Lucia said, "and getting to the net and scoring some blue-paint goals and rebound goals. The first two were like that."
All five, actually.
The score stayed 2-0 until the last five minutes of the second period, when the Gophers doubled their lead. Haula got the third goal, converting on his second rebound attempt.
Defenseman Justin Holl made it 4-0 on a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play from Haula to Hansen to Holl in the low slot. Holl's goal came with 29 seconds left in the second period.
"That little flurry late in the second, to score a couple, pretty much sealed it," Lucia said.
Gophers goalie Kent Patterson, who had 20 saves, lost his chance for a a seventh shutout this season when Niagara defenseman Tyler Matthews scored early in the third period. Zach Budish of the Gophers offset that score 11 minutes later with a power-play goal.
"The forwards played fantastic," Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "It was real good to have them back around that dirty areas."
Before the break, Schmidt said, the Gophers were taking too many long shots in some games and passing up good opportunities.
"Tonight we just tried to get pucks to the net," he said, "and try to hammer a couple home."
Northeastern 3, Princeton 3: This game -- which officially will be a tie -- was decided by a seemingly never-ending shootout.
Finally, in the eighth round, Northeastern's Justin Daniels slipped the puck through Princeton goalie Mike Condon's legs. The third-line center was the 16th shooter.
"It's a good tie, it puts us in the championship game," Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. "We will have to play a lot better [Saturday]."
The Huskies (7-7-3) came into the tournament with six victories in a row after a slow start with a new coach. Now the Hockey East team has a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Braden Pimm scored two goals for Northeastern, which outshot the Tigers 41-26. His second goal put the Huskies ahead 3-2 midway through the third period, but a minute later Kevin Ross of the Tigers (4-9-3) tied the score with his first goal of the season.