For the first time in three years, the Minnesota men’s hockey team will be a part of the WCHA Final Five Tournament when the puck drops at the Xcel Energy Center next weekend. The top-seeded and fifth-ranked Golden Gophers completed a two-game sweep of 12th-place Alaska Anchorage on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena to move into the tournament’s semifinal round next Friday. Minnesota’s next opponent will be determined on Thursday.
After playing through a scoreless first period against the Seawolves on Friday, the Gophers got on the board early on Saturday.
Just over four minutes into the contest, senior Jake Hansen tipped a Ben Marshall shot from the point into the upper right corner of the net past Seawolf goaltender Chris Kamal to put Minnesota in front.
Despite getting three power plays and several scoring opportunities in the final 16 minutes of the period, the Gophers carried a one-goal lead into the intermission.
In the second period, Alaska Anchorage came out strong to the seize the momentum.
Sophomore Matt Bailey knotted the score 35 seconds into the middle stanza, beating Minnesota netminder Kent Patterson under the arm while working toward the end of a power play that carried over from the first.
A quick series of events at the UAA blueline 7:11 into the period that resulted in minor penalties by the Gophers’ Seth Helgeson and Seth Ambroz gave Alaska Anchorage a two-minute five-on-three chance and the Seawolves took full advantage.
Bailey struck for his second tally of the game 46 seconds into the power play and Scott Allen put UAA ahead 3-1 just 23 seconds later.
After Allen’s goal at the 8:20 mark of the period, the Gophers began to pick up the pace and were able to tie the score before the intermission.
Zach Budish started the comeback with 8:44 to go in the period by one-timing a cross-ice feed from freshman Kyle Rau past Kamal.
After being stymied on their first six power-play opportunities of the Gophers finally broke through on the man advantage when Nick Bjugstad capped a tic-tac-toe passing play with his 24th goal of the season. Nate Schmidt began the play by finding Erik Haula next to the UAA goal and Haula set up Bjugstad with a quick pass through the crease.
Wanting to avoid a decisive Game 3 on Sunday, Minnesota came out flying in the final period.
For the second straight night, Haula scored two goals in the same period. After Rau drew in two Alaska Anchorage defenders at the blueline 5:05 in, the sophomore center finished off the play by going in alone and beating Kamal on the backhand through the five-hole.
Haula gave the Gophers some insurance 23 seconds later when he batted home a bouncing puck in front of the net.
Helgeson and freshman Sam Warning capped the scoring with goals 1:13 and 4:16 later, respectively and senior goaltender Jake Kremer closed out the final 43.2 seconds of the game in goal. It was Kremer’s first-ever appearance between the pipes in his four years at Minnesota.
The Gophers won after trailing by multiple goals for the second time all season and captured their first playoff series win since sweeping St. Cloud at home in 2008.