Winter hats flew over the boards during the third period of the Gophers’ 5-1 victory against Mercyhurst.
Saying goodbye to head warmth on the walk home Friday was a small price for fans to pay to see Minnesota begin the second half of its season on the right track, winning for the fifth time in six games.
Sophomore Brent Gates celebrated his first collegiate hat trick as the Gophers advanced to the championship game of the 26th annual Mariucci Classic. The Gophers will face Massachusetts at 7 p.m. Saturday. UMass beat Alabama Huntsville 2-1 in overtime in the tournament’s first game.
“I’m happy for our team getting the win and moving on to tomorrow night’s championship game,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “Mercyhurst made us work like I knew they would. I’ve always liked playing [Lakers coach] Rick Gotkin’s teams because they play the right way. … They’re trying to win the game and made us work for it tonight.”
Gates scored a pair of power play goals less than three minutes apart in the first period and the Gophers went 2-for-6 with the man advantage. He completed his hat trick by trying to stop a pass in front of Mercyhurst goaltender Brandon Wildung. Instead the puck went off his leg and into the net, along with a Lakers defender and Wildung.
“It was a great feeling. I don’t really know how many hat tricks I’ve had in my life,” he said, not remembering his last. “[Getting one] just in front of a big crowd of loyal fans at the Mariucci Classic at home is just a good feeling.”
Junior Leon Bristedt continued to find chemistry with Gates, setting up both of Gates’ power-play goals. The Stockholm native got on the scoreboard himself in the second period, roofing the puck past Wildung, who made 25 saves. Bristedt’s three points tied his career high.
“I was happy. It was fun to see [Gates] get going,” he said.
Eric Schierhorn made 27 saves and helped the Gophers kill all six of Mercyhurst’s power-play chances.
Derek Barach scored the lone Lakers goal with 3:34 remaining in the opening period.
Minnesota captain Justin Kloos added a shorthanded empty-net goal in the third.
Having 20 days between games can lead to rust. While the players admit there was some, Gates, who scored the game-winning goal the last time Minnesota played against Michigan State, tried to minimize his own. Gates said he spent the time away focused all the while and enjoying the time with his family.
“It was tough just because you’re home and you might want to relax and do other things, which you can,” said Gates, from Grand Rapids, Mich., “to just having that end goal and coming back to a team of guys, a team of brothers who really have an end goal and want to make a run.
“Every person is accountable to stay in shape, to come back not missing a beat. I think that accountability from our coaches and our teammates really helps.”