ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – Minnesota’s 6-0 opening-night offensive outburst showcased, of all things, the back half of the Gophers’ ice brigade.
Not only did sophomore Eric Schierhorn notch his fourth career shutout on just 14 saves Friday night, but the six Minnesota defensemen blocked 12 shot attempts.
And for good measure, the defense accounted for half of Minnesota’s goal production with senior Jake Bischoff netting two and freshman Ryan Zuhlsdorf scoring his first collegiate goal.
All six of the Gophers’ defensemen who played are NHL draft picks. Alaska-Anchorage has zero.
“We’re deep defensively. We’re deep offensively. And tonight we showed that,” Schierhorn said
And the skill level of defensemen playing in front of Schierhorn was not lost on the reigning Big Ten goaltender of the year.
“Our penalty kill just absolutely shut them down,” Schierhorn said. “They might have had two shots on five power plays. That’s a recipe for success, and if we can do that the rest of the year, it’ll be good, right?”
While Minnesota had an off day Saturday to prepare for Sunday afternoon’s game with Alaska, Schierhorn and his family took the opportunity to host the team on a tour of Anchorage and to dinner Saturday night at his parents’ house.
Schierhorn said returning to play in his hometown for the first time since he left for Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., in eighth grade did give the normally even-keel goalie the jitters.
“It was a little nervous there in the first 10 [minutes],” Schierhorn said. “I don’t even know if I had a shot the first 10, but once I got that first one going and felt the puck a little better, it was just like any other game.”
With time ticking down in the third period and the Gophers clearly in control leading 4-0, Rem Pitlick and Brent Gates added extra insurance goals just 1:13 apart late in the game. And then the defense stepped up to ensure Schierhorn got his bagel.
“I heard them late in the game saying, ‘Let’s get this one for Schierhorn.’ They were trying to cinch down the shutout,” Schierhorn said. “It’s nice that my guys have that in the back of their minds.”
The Gophers return to the Olympic-size ice at Sullivan Arena at 7:05 p.m. Sunday for a neutral site game against Alaska.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said the two games in Alaska were scheduled “a couple of years ago” before Schierhorn was a Gopher and before the Alaska hockey programs were in jeopardy. At that time Minnesota thought it would be playing in the Kendall Classic Hockey Tournament, which the Gophers won in 1986. Budget reasons canceled the tournament and now UAA, Alaska and a third team each play a two-game series. UAA and Alaska played late Saturday night.