HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech freshman Pheonix Copley played like a No. 1 goaltender Saturday night, but Minnesota played like a No. 1 team.
The Gophers needed a 34-18 shot advantage and a Seth Ambroz game-winning goal with 3:35 left in regulation to win 3-2 - the 600th victory of coach Don Lucia's storied career - and earn a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series split against the Huskies at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
"It's nice (to reach the milestone), but personally I'm happy to get win No. 1 here in the WCHA this year," said Lucia, who becomes the 10th NCAA hockey coach to reach the 600-win plateau. "It looks like Tech is on the way back, which is great to see for the community up here but it was nice to see some of our guys who struggled (in Friday's 5-3 Tech win) have bounce-back games."
Michigan Tech sophomore forward Tanner Kero fends off Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson behind the net in Saturday’s 3-2 Gophers win at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
One such player, Ambroz, also scored the game's first goal, while Erik Haula added a second-period goal for the Gophers. Minnesota scored a goal in every period in the series.
"Last night we didn't come out with the fire and urgency we needed," Ambroz said. "The way we were able to come back and regroup tonight was great. Right from the start we were getting pucks in deep, playing our game and it was a lot of fun and a great game to be a part of."
Chad Pietila and Ryan Furne scored second-period goals for Tech, and both teams battled tired legs through 16:25 of third-period play with a 2-2 tie.
Minnesota 1 1 1 - 3
Michigan Tech 0 2 0 - 2
First period 1, MIN, Seth Ambroz (Kyle Rau, Ben Marshall), 17:45. Penalties MTU, Carl Nielsen (slashing), 3:10; MIN, Zach Budish (interference), 4:40; MIN, Budish (cross-checking), 8:49; MTU, Malcolm Gould (cross-checking), 10:09; MTU, Milos Gordic (boarding), 14:47.
Second period 2, MTU, Chad Pietila 2 (Nielsen, Brad Stebner), 6:18; 3, MIN, Erik Haula (Mike Reilly), 11:34; 4, MTU, Ryan Furne (Alex Petan), 19:03. Penalties MTU, Tanner Kero (boarding), 6:29; MTU, Dan Sova (interference), 12:38.
Third period 5, MIN, Ambroz (Travis Boyd, Nate Condon), 16:25. Penalties None.
Goalies MIN, Adam Wilcox (18 shots, 16 saves); MTU, Pheonix Copley (34 shots, 31 saves).
"We just felt we put ourselves in a good position, it came down to a 20-minute game for an opportunity to sweep and put us in first place all alone," Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "The first few shifts of the third period we actually took it to them. It boils down to a break, an opportunity here or there and (Ambroz) got a good shot."
Ambroz's first goal came 17:45 into the first stanza, a rebound goal that Copley had little chance to save. Otherwise, Copley stuffed a pair of Haula chances and slid powerfully across the crease to deny Nick Bjugstad a goal.
"Pheonix had a real good game (Friday) night. I thought he was a difference maker in the game and I thought he had an even better performance tonight," Pearson said.
Pietila tied the game for Tech after collecting a Carl Nielsen blue line-to-blue line pass straight up the middle, knocking the deflected puck out of the air and finishing to the top shelf at the 6:18 mark of the second period.
The Huskies couldn't build momentum off the goal, though, as Tanner Kero took a boarding penalty at 6:29 - it was Tech's fourth penalty of the game after having only three in Friday night's win.
"It does take a lot of energy when you're killing penalties, and I thought it really disrupted our flow in the second period," Pearson said.
Minnesota never really got out of its flow, tallying 11 shots in each of the first two periods and 12 in the third. Haula's goal came at the 11:34 mark of the second period, and the Gophers are now 15-1-1 in the last two years when he scores.
Just when it looked like Minnesota would take momentum into the third period, though, Bjugstad scored - for the Huskies. Alex Petan centered a pass for Ryan Furne, who tipped the puck into freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox. It then bounced in the air and went in off Bjugstad as he attempted to clear the puck from the goal area.
Both teams traded several third-period chances before Ambroz fired a shot from the high slot just over Copley's glove at 16:25.
"It's kind of tough that late in the game to give up a goal," Copley said. "The guys were battling in front of me, it was a close game, a tough loss."
Pietila had a point-blank chance a minute later that Wilcox - Copley's former United States Hockey League teammate - made a fabulous save on to earn his first career WCHA win. Tech pulled Copley with 1:10 left but couldn't sustain any pressure.
"Most people out there are probably going to say Tech's either lucky or happy to get a split with Minnesota, but you ask anyone on our staff or our locker room and that's not the case," said Nielsen, Tech's captain. "We were with them the whole game in our opinions, and we came up short in our minds. There's no excuses. The best thing we can do here is learn from it, not dwell on it and take a step in the right direction."
Tech (2-2-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) will head on the road this weekend to continue WCHA play against Denver.