The Gophers celebrated Saturday night at Mariucci Arena after winning the Mariucci Classic.
It was Minnesota’s 14th title in the 26-year holiday tournament but first since the 2012-13 season.
In a way, celebrating with the trophy was a team effort. In a way, it wasn’t.
Before Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Massachusetts, none of the present players had won the tournament. In that time the team’s senior class had reached a national championship game and won regular-season conference titles every year.
Yet the Mariucci Classic eluded the Gophers each of the past three seasons, even as the team entered the tournament twice in that stretch ranked in the top 10.
“For whatever reason we’ve had trouble getting two wins in the past. It wasn’t our best game, but we’ll take the trophy and two wins,” said Gophers captain Justin Kloos after a three-point night.
Forwards Tyler Sheehy and Mike Szmatula each had a goal and an assist.
Special teams played a big role. The Gophers scored a pair of power-play goals while Kloos added a shorthanded goal for the second straight night. Minnesota successfully killed all six UMass power plays, including a five-minute major and 5-on-3 late in the game, to end the Mariucci Classic 12-for-12 on the penalty kill.
“That was a big thing we had to work on in the second half is the penalty kill,” said Gopher goaltender and Mariucci Classic MVP Eric Schierhorn. “We blocked a lot of shots. I made some saves. When we do that we have a more successful penalty kill.”
After his eight-game point streak ended the night before, Sheehy opened Saturday’s championship game with his team-leading 12th goal of the season. The Gophers went on the power play 26 seconds into the game. Just over a minute later Sheehy took a pass from Kloos and scored for a 1-0 lead.
Kloos scored unassisted eight seconds into a power play early in the second period. Minnesota’s captain won the faceoff, which began a Gophers penalty kill, got the puck, raced down the ice and beat Minutemen goaltender Ryan Wischow on the breakaway to make it 2-0.
Kloos’ three shorthanded goals this season are tied for the national lead.
UMass forward Johnny Lazarus cut the lead in half with his fifth goal of the season 12:54 into the second period.
Szmatula made it 3-1 over a minute later. With Griff Jeszka in the penalty box, Sheehy, Kloos and Szmatula completed several passes to one another in short range before Szmatula tapped the puck home.
“We have some pretty good playmakers,” Kloos said.
Vinni Lettieri added an empty-netter with 36.4 seconds remaining.
Schierhorn finished with 33 saves and allowed just a single goal both nights this weekend. Wischow, meanwhile, made 34 stops.
“I’m really happy for Eric Schierhorn and the way he played this weekend,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “That’s without question the best he has played this year on any given weekend.”
Schierhorn had 27 saves Friday in a 5-1 victory over Mercyhurst.
Minnesota has won six of its past seven games.