Power play comes alive for Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS — Through the first three weeks of the season, the power play had been virtually non-existent for the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team. The Gophers had scored just three times with the man advantage entering Friday’s game against Minnesota State.

As it turned out, the power play was key for the Gophers in their 3-2 win against the Mavericks. In fact, all three Minnesota goals came on the power play, including Zach Budish’s game-winner 5:40 into the third period.

It came against a Minnesota State team that had killed 87.1 percent of its penalties through four games. But the Gophers got nine shots off with the man advantage and finished 3-for-6 on the power play. That proved to be the difference in the game.

“We talked about shooting more. We talked about a lack of shots on our power play,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “You saw (Nate Schmidt) teeing it up a lot more tonight and (Nick Bjugstad) getting in there on the wings. … We had a good net presence tonight.”

After the Mavericks took an early 1-0 lead on a Zach Bloomquist power play goal, Minnesota scored its first of three power play goals on the evening. Sophomore forward Travis Boyd scored on a shot from the left faceoff circle, beating Minnesota State goalie Phil Cook to even the game at 1-1. Mike Reilly and Seth Ambroz were credited with assists on Boyd’s third goal of the season.

Minnesota’s second power play goal came off the stick of junior defenseman Nate Schmidt, who fired a laser from the point that found its way through traffic and into the back of the net. Schmidt’s second goal of the season — which came with just three seconds remaining on the power play — tied the game at 2-2 late in the second period as the Gophers again took advantage of a Mavericks penalty.

Schmidt’s celebration on the goal was a bit delayed. After the game, he admitted he didn’t initially see the puck go in.

“That was a once-in-a-while shot. I got a hold of it pretty good,” Schmidt said of his goal. “I had no idea (it went in) until Zach celebrated. … I don’t even think the goalie saw it. I think it went in before the goalie even knew it because Zach did a fantastic job getting his big butt in front of the net.”

While Schmidt gave Budish the credit for the screen on his equalizer, Budish would get even more credit in the third period when he poked a loose puck past Cook to put Minnesota up 3-2. It was the first goal of the year for Budish, who had 12 goals a season ago. He had a great chance earlier in the third period on a shot in front of the net that hit the crossbar, but finally capitalized later in the period.

Budish did have four assists entering Friday’s game, but the junior forward was relieved to get the first goal of the year out of the way. And it was a big one, as his power play goal stood as the game winner.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that I haven’t played my best hockey the first six games or whatever it’s been so far,” Budish said. “Coach (Grant) Potulny helped me out quite a bit. We watched some film the last two weeks, just one-on-one, about things I maybe need to improve on. He showed me a couple things I was doing well, so he’s kind of been all over me the last couple weeks. He’s pushed me to get better, and I appreciate the help and support.”

The Gophers and Mavericks will now face off in Mankato on Saturday night for the second game of the home-and-home series. With the win Friday at Mariucci Arena, Minnesota improved to 5-1-0 on the season and 2-1-0 in the WCHA.

“I thought we had a pretty good game tonight,” Lucia said. “The power play came alive, which we needed to have.”

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