ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two months is a long enough time to allow a team like the University of Minnesota to forget a loss. After all, the Gophers only have two all season as they climbed to the top of the national rankings.
But Minnesota remembers the last time it faced Minnesota-Duluth. Back in October, the Bulldogs were the rude visitors to Mariucci Arena, sending the Gophers to a 6-2 loss, the only loss for Minnesota at home this season.
The two teams will face each other again with Minnesota-Duluth again on the road. Only this time, the home-ice advantage isn’t as big for the Gophers.
Top-ranked Minnesota beat No. 5 St. Cloud State, 4-1, on Friday in the inaugural North Star College Cup, setting up a rematch against the Bulldogs, which beat Minnesota State, 5-4, in overtime in the first game of the new tournament. The Gophers will play Minnesota-Duluth in the finals Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center.
"They kind of, unfortunately, ran us out of our own building," Minnesota forward Travis Boyd said after beating the Huskies. "We’re definitely looking forward to getting another shot at Duluth tomorrow, that’s for sure."
The North Star College Cup was designed to pit the Division I college hockey programs from around the state and keep the in-state rivalries intact after the splitting of the WCHA and the Gophers’ move to the Big Ten this season. St. Cloud State and Minnesota State will play in the afternoon game on Saturday.
Minnesota reached the finals on a career-high 38 saves for goaltender Adam Wilcox. Travis Boyd and Hudson Fasching scored power-play goals, Nate Condon added his fourth of the season and Seth Ambroz scored his 11th on an empty-net goal.
"I thought Adam was our best player tonight, especially in the first period," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We turned a few pucks over tonight. They’re a good team. They skate very well. He was able to right us, and let us get going. Probably the difference in why we won the game was specialty teams, then the play of Adam."
For all its success this season, the weak spot for Minnesota has been its power play. Despite an abundance of skilled forwards, the Gophers entered the weekend with the nation’s 41st-ranked power play. Minnesota owns the nation’s second-highest scoring offense by averaging 3.82 goals per game, but was just 17 of 103 with the man-advantage.
The Gophers took advantage, going 2 of 2 on the power-play on Friday.
"It was definitely something we stressed over winter break, when we had our break there, to get going because you’re going to need your special teams at the end of the year," Boyd said. "So, it’s good it’s starting to roll now, which is definitely helping our team."
Boyd scored his seventh of the season and fourth on the power-play sending a quick shot on net after Fasching won a battle for the puck down low. Fasching was on the receiving end from Boyd in the second period after Boyd’s initial shot was saved and Fasching poked home the rebound.
"It’s critical," Lucia said. "You can’t keep going 0-fer in a game. You’re not going to score every night five on five, three or four goals. So, tonight we scored one five-on-five goal and the two power-play goals. So our game was efficient. I think we can play better in certain areas than what we played tonight. Anytime you beat a good, quality team like St. Cloud State, you have to feel good about that."
Fasching scored for the first time in 12 games and added an assist. Boyd, who has eight of his 17 points on the power play this year, also had a goal and an assist.
Curiously enough, the last time Minnesota scored more than one power-play goal in a game was the loss to the Bulldogs in October. But the Gophers were 2 of 10 on the man-advantage in the 6-2 loss.
They’re certain to remember that game vividly before the rematch on Saturday.
"They waxed us pretty good the last time they played us," Lucia said. "I didn’t care who we played, I just wanted to be playing at 7 o’clock tomorrow, not in the afternoon."