The Gophers got off to an early start on Friday night, netting their first goal just 44 seconds into the game. On a pretty passing play by Minnesota, Kyle Rau put away his fifth score of the season with assists coming from point machines Jake Hansen and Erik Haula.
Minnesota looked to be outskating Vermont in every aspect of the game early on, beating the Catamounts to pucks, forcing turnovers, and creating their own breaks.
An example of this came at the 3:37 mark of the first when Hansen stole the puck behind the Vermont net and laid it out front to Haula who casually slid the puck to a wide open Sam Warning for an easy goal, Warning’s third of the year.
The Gophers had a chance to build their lead at 7:56 of the first when Vermont’s Nick Luuko went to the box for inference. Minnesota’s top ranked powerplay wasn’t able to generate many chances, letting the Catamounts kill the penalty.
After a back and forth battle, including one penalty kill by the Gophers, Minnesota put in its third goal of the game as Nick Bjugstad sniped a shot through the legs of Vermont goalie Rob Madore at 15:26 to give the Gophers a 3-0 cushion.
Despite the lead, Minnesota proceeded to get in more penalty trouble with Seth Helgeson and Taylor Matson earning minors later in the period, both of which the Gophers killed off.
Early in the second Minnesota again found themselves shorthanded when Nate Schmidt was sent to the box. For the fourth time on Friday, the Gophers’ penalty kill had no trouble stifling the Vermont attack.
The Gophers added to their lead at 7:20 of the second with a goal by the captain Matson who got a nice feed out front from Nate Condon. Condon hit Matson in the slot and the senior forward did the rest, promptly burying the puck in the back of the net.
The scoring continued at 9:52 when Zach Budish chipped the puck up the boards to a streaking Rau who slipped the puck to Bjugstad for a top shelf slapper. With the Gophers leading 5-0 on just 19 shots, Vermont put in reserve goaltender Alex Vazzano. Minnesota continued to add pressure, forcing Vazzano to make a number of tough saves.
At the 13:24 mark, Vermont forward Matt Marshall took a bad holding penalty, putting the dangerous Gopher powerplay on the ice for the second time. Zach Budish netted his second goal of the season with a wrister past Vazzano off the pass from freshman Seth Ambroz to give Minnesota a 6-0 lead.
After the second period, the Gophers had started to pull away in shots on net, leading Vermont by a count of 26-13, only allowing two shots in the entire second period.
The third period was a chance for Don Lucia to experiment with a few things. He gave the fourth line of Travis Boyd, Tom Serratore, and Nick Larson significant time on the powerplay. Defensemen such as Jake Parenteau and Seth Helgeson also saw time with the man advantage.
Both teams had plenty of powerplay opportunities during the third period on Friday. There were eight total penalties in the third but neither team was able to convert, ending the game at a score of 6-0 in favor of the Maroon and Gold.
Although it was a dominant victory for the Gophers, there are still aspects of their game that must improve before the heart of the WCHA schedule hits. The biggest thing Minnesota needs to do is to stay out of the penalty box. Giving up six powerplays to Vermont is something the Gophers proved they could get away with. Letting a team like North Dakota, Duluth, or Denver have that many and it will be a long night for Minnesota. Staying clear of penalties must improve if the Gophers want to continue their recent success.
The Gophers have plenty of positives to take away from Friday’s game. Firstly, the scoring had a fairly even distribution through the top three lines of forwards. Out of 16 points on the night, the nine forwards who make up the first three lines accounted for 15. It will be tough for most teams to compete with a Gopher team that can put out three groups who can all put the puck in the net.
Another encouraging sign for the Gophers was their penalty kill. Vermont ended with just three shots on six powerplay attempts, tallying no shots on powerplays after the first period. With high-powered offenses dominating the WCHA, Minnesota will need to continue their effective penalty kill if they want make a return to the NCAA Tournament.