The rust of a 3½-week layoff was noticeable early, with a sluggish first period that actually saw the Gophers men's hockey team trailing in a game and giving up a power-play goal for the first time this season.
What wasn't different, however, on Sunday at 3M Arena at Mariucci: the result, another Minnesota victory.
Behind a three-goal surge over five minutes in the second period, the No. 1-ranked Gophers defeated Arizona State 4-1 in a nonconference game, running their record to 9-0 and starting the second phase of their season on a solid if not always dominant note.
Mike Koster, Jonny Sorenson and Sampo Ranta scored in the first eight minutes of the second, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead for the Gophers. Ranta added a goal late in the third period, and Jack LaFontaine made 27 saves for his ninth victory of the season.
"For half the game we were good tonight, and that half was enough for us,'' Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "For half the game, we were all over the map.''
The victory extended the Gophers' winning streak to 11 games dating to last season, the program's longest since the 11-game run that the 1995-96 team assembled on the way to an NCAA Frozen Four berth.
Matthew Kopperud scored for the Sun Devils (4-7-2), an independent team playing all 28 of its games on the road against Big Ten opponents. The series wraps up at 7 p.m. Monday.
The Sun Devils put the Gophers in an uncomfortable situation early in the first period when Kopperud tucked the rebound of a Ryan O'Reilly shot past LaFontaine at 4:53. That came after Ranta barreled into Arizona State goalie Evan DeBrouwer and was called for charging. It was the first power-play goal the Gophers have given up in 18 chances this season.
Motzko didn't like the way his team was playing in the first — especially with the Sun Devils getting in tight for a handful of Grade-A chances against LaFontaine — but saw no need to worry.
"Being down 1-0 is not adversity,'' he said. "That's hockey.''
After first-intermission adjustments, "We came back out, and there was our game,'' Motzko said. "… We were playing with energy, and that's exactly what we want to see.''
He wanted to see goals, too, and that's what he got.
First, Koster tied it 1-1 when he tapped a pass from Ben Meyers past goalie Evan DeBrouwer at 2:58. Next, Sorenson slammed home a juicy rebound for a 2-1 lead at 5:07. Then, Ranta pounced on a loose puck created when the Sun Devils' James Sanchez and Johnny Walker collided in front of the Arizona State net. Ranta quickly lifted a backhander over DeBrouwer for a 3-1 lead at 7:58.
"It was pretty much a no-look shot,'' said Ranta, whose six goals are tied for the team lead with Scott Reedy. "I got a good bounce right in front of the net. I knew where the net was and tried to roof it.''
Added Sorenson, "Three goals in five minutes wasn't a bad way to start the second, I think.''
Though the Sun Devils would hold Minnesota without a shot on goal for a 16-minute stretch starting midway through the second, LaFontaine let nothing else in.
"He was called upon far too much to night to make some big-time saves,'' Motzko said. "We've got to play better in front of him.''