The Gophers returned from their holiday break with the Mariucci Classic in their sights. The Air Force Falcons were Saturday’s opponent, and at 6th in Atlantic Hockey, the Falcons needed wins. Jason Torf would start in net for the 5-7-4 Falcons while Minnesota tossed Adam Wilcox in net.
There were no shots on goal in the first sixty seconds, but the Falcons and Gophers were both getting their skating legs back after being off for Christmas break. The first official shot on goal was taken by Minnesota’s Mark Alt, but to the three minute mark, Air Force was without a shot on goal.
Another key that would be witnessed in the early going was how both goaltenders—Jason Torf and Adam Wilcox—would adjust to being back on big ice for the first time in a couple of weeks. At the 4:36 mark, you would think that Torf was playing his angles real well, even stopping a few shots in a Gopher onslaught and getting help at the goal line with one of them.
Shots were 3-0 in favor of Minnesota at the 5:16 mark, with Kyle Rau and Mike Reilly getting in on the act. Minnesota would continue its attacking, getting a goal at 6:58 on even strength as Erik Haula put the puck in the net. Haula was assisted in his effort by Jake Parenteau and Sam Warning. It was simply a matter of time.
As the first period evolved, Air Force was struggling to get the puck out of their defensive end, with shots at the twelve minute mark 9-1 in favor of Minnesota. The first penalty pf the game came at 12:04 as Minnesota’s Seth Helgeson would go for roughing. Air Force’s power play would amount to nothing, and the Gophers appeared poised to take the lead into the opening intermission.
As twenty minutes fell in Minneapolis, Air Force was being out-sniped, out-chanced, and out-played. The Falcons only had one power play to work with (the Helgeson roughing minor), while a good takeaway could be the fact that Air Force didn’t commit a penalty in the opening twenty. Shots were 11-4 to Minnesota. Power plays had Air Force at 0-1 through twenty.
Air Force’s lack of forecheck would bleed into the opening stages of the second period, but thankfully for Frank Serratore’s boys in blue, they were still only a goal down. The first shot of the second period went to Air Force at 2:12, and four players had the five shots for the Falcons.
A penalty came at the 3:00 mark, which gave Minnesota its first power play. Jason Fabian would go for holding.
Minnesota’s opening power play went by the wayside, without a shot on goal. However, Minnesota would go up 2-0 on an even strength goal from Ryan Reilly. Reilly was assisted on his first collegiate goal by Christian Isackson and Justin Holl at 5:34.
Minnesota would keep the pressure on Jason Torf’s net for Air Force, with the total shot count being 17-6 through twenty-six minutes and twenty-eight seconds.
The middle stages of the game were penalty free, but the impressive thing was that play was clean for the most part. You wouldn’t see that with a team like North Dakota or Wisconsin. Shots were 20-7 with Minnesota in control as the thirty-three minute mark hit.
The stretch run brought the second period into its latter stages, and the story still remained the same. Shots were 24-10 in favor of Minnesota, and each team was 0-1 on completed power plays. At 19:49 in the 2nd period, Minnesota’s Erik Haula was sent off for hooking, giving UAF 1:49 worth of power play to work with in the third.
Air Force’s second power play of the game would bring the Falcons’ first real burst of pressure, with three shots to go with it. However, the game was still 2-0 in favor of Minnesota.
Tempers flared at the 6:27 mark of the third period when a scrum sent Air Force’s Mike McDonald to the penalty box along with Minnesota’s Seth Helgeson. Each had roughing penalties, but an additional penalty assessed to Helgeson for spraying UAF goaltender Jason Torf. The extra penalty proved to be of naught for the Falcons, who were down two goals with a bit over ten minutes remaining in proceedings.
At 11:36, Air Force was assessed a tripping penalty that went to Tony Thomas. Minnesota’s third power play of the night would lead to a goal at 12:05 scored by Kyle Rau. Rau was assisted by Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad on the goal that would effectively do the Falcons in on this night.
The goals kept on coming, as Minnesota’s Nate Condon scored on even strength at 15:03 of the third. At 17:48, Air Force’s Ryan Timar would be called for slashing, but that penalty would effectively run the clock dead.
At game’s end, shots were 33-18 in favor of Minnesota, with the Gophers going 1-3 on power plays and Air Force going 0-3.
Sunday’s Mariucci Classic finale can be seen on FOX Sports North at 7pm on Sunday as Minnesota and Boston College go at it for all the marbles.
Geoff Discher is rootshed.com’s Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey Examiner as well as the National College Hockey Examiner. Leave a comment below, or feel free to reach him at Disch61@hotmail.com with comments, story ideas, or any general talk surrounding college hockey. You can find him on Facebook as well by clicking here as well as here and joining the conversation from the social media side as well. He’s always chock full of fact and opinion. I’m also on Twitter @GophHkyExmnr. Check it out!
Until next time, I’ll see you at the rink!