Only a facemask, not the Gophers' comeback attempt, was dented and broken in their first game of 2016 at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota opened the second half of the season with a 3-2 victory Friday night over Connecticut. Two of those goals were conventional. The third involved a fluttering slapshot by Vinni Lettieri that went off Taylor Cammarata's full-shield facemask, past Huskies goaltender Rob Nichols and into the net.
"I'm probably one of those guys who hates cages in college the most," said Cammarata, whose dash to the net and goal stopped a seven-game drought. "Tonight I'm kind of thankful for it."
Hudson Fasching scored the go-ahead goal in the third period 31 seconds after Huskies freshman Max Letunov had tied it up. It is the second consecutive game that the Gophers (8-8) needed a single shift to break a tie.
"We generated a lot of good chances during the second and third period," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "Good win for us. We haven't seen .500 in a while."
The Gophers will face Harvard, which defeated Ferris State 7-3 in the opening game of the 25th annual Mariucci Classic, on Saturday night for the tournament championship.
Junior Evan Richardson opened the scoring for Connecticut (5-11-1) midway through the second period following a scoreless first period in which both teams felt the effects of a three-week holiday layoff.
Defenseman Michael Brodzinski responded for Minnesota five minutes later on the power play. The junior had previously hit the post in the first period, but his second effort found its way into the net for his fourth goal of the season. It was followed 23 seconds later by Cammarata's goal.
With how the team has scored of late, it feels more like a new year in hockey, too, given that the Gophers began the season with one goal in the opening three games and struggled to hold leads.
"Nobody gets down on the bench. I think that's the reason we keep doing that," Brodzinski said. "We're all just very supportive of each other."
Since Dec. 4, the Gophers have won in overtime twice and come back after faltering in the third period twice.
It comes at the same time that the team's depth is beginning to show and the junior class has begun to lead by example. The Gophers' last seven goals have all come from juniors. After the game, Lucia singled out several, including Cammarata.
''[Being leaders] wasn't exactly easy for us," Fasching said. "I think we're settling into that a little bit more now, understanding where we fit into this team and our roles right now. It helps.
"Everybody knows where they stand. Everybody knows what they have to do. Everybody knows their job. It's something that we can use more going forward."
Eric Schierhorn made 15 saves for the Gophers while Rob Nichols had 35 saves for UConn.
This win was the first for Minnesota in a Mariucci Classic semifinal since the 2012-13 season. That is also the last time the Gophers won the tournament it hosts.
No. 7 Harvard will be a great test next.
"It's something we've talked about — we have to get to the championship game," Lucia said. "This year we have got our group and are playing a team that probably is more skilled than we are [Saturday] night and we are going to have to dig in and play a smart, aggressive game."
• There was a moment of silence for Glen Sonmor before the opening faceoff. The former Gophers head coach and broadcaster passed away Dec. 14 at the age of 86.
Harvard 7, Ferris State 3: In the opening game of the Mariucci Classic, the Crimson wasted no time getting out to a quick start, scoring three goals in the opening 15 minutes against the Bulldogs (8-9-4).
Freshman forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage led the Crimson (7-1-3) with three points (one goal, two assists). Jimmy Vesey and Lake Elmo native Jake Horton each shad a goal and an assist.
Goaltender Merrick Madsen made 35 saves for Harvard, including stopping a penalty shot.