ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – Gophers g Gophers goaltender Eric Schierhorn returned to his home town to play hockey for the time since leaving for Shattuck-St. Mary’s as an eighth grader.
Buoyed by a throng of friends and family in the stands, Schierhorn backstopped the Gophers to a 6-0 shutout victory over Alaska-Anchorage Friday night at Sullivan Arena.
Schierhorn turned aside all 14 shots in the Gophers opening game of the season and first in Alaska since 2012. Jake Bischoff scored twice and Connor Reilly had three assists to propel the offense.
“It was a good start for us,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We didn’t have an exhibition game (this season) and I thought we were a little rusty for the first seven, eight minutes. But we played well.”
Minnesota (1-0) opened the scoring 11 minutes, 42 seconds into the game. Ryan Zuhlsdorf converted Connor Reilly’s pass, snapping a hard shot from the slot for his first collegiate goal. The freshman from Edina was slow to get up after getting hit while shooting but continued to play.
The Gophers outshot Alaska-Anchorage 8-4 in the opening 20 minutes. Rem Pitlick and Taylor Cammarata each had nice scoring chances late in the period but Seawolves (0-1) goaltender Oliver Mantha turned aside both shots from the slot.
Schierhorn, entering his sophomore season as the reigning Big Ten goaltender of the year, had a relatively easy night’s work in goal.
“I’m happy for Eric,” Lucia said of Schierhorn’s homecoming shutout. “You know how that his. We get it all the time when a Minnesota kid comes back to play against the Gophers. They’re all jacked up to stick it to us. This is a little different deal.”
Minnesota’s defense limited Anchorage to just single digit shots each period, more impressive given the Seawolves four power play chances in the first two periods.
The Gophers offense picked up considerably in the second, outshooting Alaska-Anchorage 19-4.
Bischoff gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead just 1:35 into the second period. The senior caught Reilly’s cross ice pass on his backhand, skated three strides and roofed the puck for his 13th career goal.
“It was a good performance by our guys,” a smiling Schierhorn said following the game. “I was just saying that it was probably the easiest shutout I’ve ever had in my life. We held them defensively to 12 (actually 14) shots, we ate pucks when we had to.”
Bischoff also netted the Gophers a 5-minute power play later in the second when he was pounded into the boards by Dylan Hubbs. Bischoff was helped from the ice by a trainer and bleeding but didn’t miss a shift.
Minnesota failed to score on the extended man advantage despite peppering Mantha with shots.
The No. 13 ranked Gophers did score shortly after the power play ended when Brent Gates Jr. one-timed a cannon from the point for a 3-0 lead with 1:47 left in the stanza.
Jack Ramsey had the puck along the half wall and threaded a perfect pass across the ice to Gates at the point. The sophomore’s bomb beat Mantha high for his first goal of the season.
Bischoff struck again in the third scoring his second goal from the same spot as his first. He snapped in Tyler Sheehy’s pass for his first multi-goal game in 102 career games, giving Minnesota a 4-0 lead. Reilly added the second assist on the goal tying his career high for three points in a game.
The Gophers added two late goals to cap off a strong opening night. Pitlick made it 5-0 when he raced up the board and blew a slap shot over Mantha’s shoulder. Gates closed the scoring with his second goal on the night with just 3:01 left in the game.
“We’re up here to get two wins, but that’s a start, right?” Schierhorn said. “It’s good to see the goal scoring get going right away. I think last year we scored one goal in the first three games. To get six in the first, it’s nice.”
The Gophers special teams were an area of focus for coach Don Lucia coming into the season. Minnesota’s power play finished 0-2 in seven minutes of five-on-four play but dominated puck control. The Gophers penalty killers successfully killed off all five power plays.
“We’re not going to complain,” Lucia said. “We didn’t give up much.”
Despite a huge off season campaign to increase season ticket sales and attendance in the off season, the game drew just 2,953 fans to the 6,251-seat Sullivan Arena. The University of Alaska’s Board of Regents meets in November to determine the fate of the school’s only Division I athletic program amid massive state budget cuts caused by low oil revenues.
“A university needs athletics,” Lucia said. “I have so many good memories when I come up here. Maybe it’s not the way they want it to be today in terms of fan support. I know what this program has meant to Anchorage over the years.”
Reilly played his first game in a Gophers uniform where he didn’t have to wear a letter “C” before his last name on the back of his jersey. The senior spent his first three seasons playing with older brother Mike.