In Don Lucia’s 26 seasons as a college bench boss, stretching back to his time at UAF and Colorado College before he took his current post at Minnesota, his teams have consistently delivered a potent power play.
Friday night, it proved lethal for UAA.
No. 2-ranked Minnesota scored on its first four power-play opportunities and cruised to a 4-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory at Sullivan Arena.
The Gophers worked out some power-play kinks last weekend, when they converted on 4 of 11 chances in a series split with Minnesota State-Mankato. After their 4-of-6 power-play clinic Friday, their power play checks in fifth in the nation at 29.7-percent efficiency.
Consider too that Lucia’s national championship teams at Minnesota in 2002 and 2003 checked in with at 26.5-percent and 25.0-percent efficiency, respectively. And a Colorado College team he had that included All-American center Brian Swanson of Eagle River checked in well above 30-percent efficiency.
Good players make for a good power play, Lucia pointed out, and he enjoys that luxury — 13 of the 18 skaters Minnesota dressed Friday are NHL draft picks. That talent translates into hard, accurate passes, agile movement and precision shooting. Nor does it hurt to have a defenseman like Nate Schmidt, who earned two assists and possesses a wicked shot from the point.
The Gophers (6-2-0, 3-2-0 WCHA) got off to a quick start when Kyle Rau generated the first of his two power-play strikes off a face-off scramble about four minutes into the game. He got the puck between the circles and whistled a wrister over the blocker on Seawolves goaltender Chris Kamal. Minnesota added another man-advantage marker when first-round draft pick Nick Bjugstad whipped a shot over Kamal’s right pad later in the period.
Rau’s second-period goal, which came after the Gophers tic-tac-toed the puck around the UAA zone, furnished a 3-0 lead. And Ben Marshall’s five-hole strike later in the period put the game out of reach for UAA.
“They had good movement,’’ Lucia said of his power play. “It wasn’t just five guys stationary tonight.’’
Minnesota’s power play proved too much for slow-starting UAA (2-3-2, 0-1-1), which was coming off a 3-3 tie at then-No. 4-ranked North Dakota two weeks ago. UAA, idle last week, managed just two shots on goal in the first period — the Seawolves never got their forecheck going — and seven shots in the first 40 minutes. UAA’s total of 14 shots on goal tied a season low.
UAA center Matt Bailey, who was issued a game misconduct for an iffy five-minute major boarding call midway through the game, said penalty killers can’t give the Gophers too much time and space.
“They’re a really skilled team and they have good players on the power play,’’ Bailey said. “You can’t give them too much respect. You have to be in shot lanes and, if they make a bad pass, you have to jump them.
“You can’t just let them recover.’’
While Kamal made 27 saves, Minnesota freshman Adam Wilcox enjoyed a light night in making 14 saves for his second shutout. It didn’t hurt that his teammates gave him an early lead and the Seawolves missed the net on some of their best scoring chances.
“You get to play with a lead, which is so important,’’ Lucia said.
UAA did not receive a power play until the start of the third period and was given just two power plays all game. The Seawolves are 1 of 21 with the man advantage this season. In seven games, only once have they enjoyed as many as four power-play chances.
“It’s like anything — you want to get in the groove of it,’’ Bailey said. “And if you don’t get those chances, it’s hard to get in a rhythm.’’
UAA has been shut out twice in seven games — North Dakota bageled the Seawolves 5-0 on Oct. 19 at the Brice Alaska Goal Rush tournament in Fairbanks.
Four of UAA’s last five games have come against teams ranked among the top four in the nation. North Dakota was ranked No. 2 when UAA played it in Fairbanks and No. 4 when UAA lost and tied in Grand Forks two weeks ago. Minnesota is currently No. 2 in both national polls.
UAA’s opponents have enjoyed 32 power-play chances this season to UAA’s 21. UAA’s penalty-killing unit ranks 58th among 59 teams in Division I at 71.9-percent efficiency, but its four short-handed goals are tied for the most in the nation.
UAA is averaging 2.14 goals per game, which ranks 45th in Division I.
UAA senior winger Alex Gellert had his three-game point streak snapped.
UAA junior defenseman Quinn Sproule sat out his second straight game with a separated shoulder.
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UM 2 2 0 — 4
UAA 0 0 0 — 0
First Period — 1, UM, Rau 3 (Haula), 4:16 (pp); 2, UM, Bjugstad 5 (Schmidt), 17:56 (pp). Penalties — Gellert, UAA (slashing), 4:11; Kwas, UAA (hooking), 16:41.
Second Period — 3, UM, Rau 4 (Haula, Schmidt), 7:09 (pp); 4, UM, Marshall 3 (Condon, Boyd), 13:35 (pp). Penalties — Crowell, UAA (elbowing), 6:25; Bailey, UAA, major-game misconduct, served by Trupp (checking from behind), 11:24; Alt, UM (interference), 20:00.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Warner, UAA (holding), 3:09; Ambroz, UM (slashing), 7:28; Serratore, UM (holding), 8:49; Gellert, UAA (unsportsmanlike conduct-embellishment), 8:49; Williams, UAA (unsportsmanlike conduct), 10:33; Alt, UM (elbowing), 10:33.
Shots on goal — UM 8-10-13—31. UAA 2-5-7—14.
Power-play Opportunities — UM 4 of 6. UAA 0 of 2.
Goalies — UM, Wilcox, 5-1-0 (14 shots-14 saves). UAA, Kamal, 1-3-0 (31 shots-27 saves).
A — 2,674 (6,251). T — 2:16.
Referees — Matt Uwelling, Brian Thul. Assistant referees — Carl Saden, Travis Jackson.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY