MINNEAPOLIS — Until just over a week ago, Michigan was one of the strongest first-period teams in the country. The Wolverines gave up just four first-period goals in their first 11 games, and they outscored their opponents 13-4 in that span.

Ice Hockey
Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs stacks the pads Friday, stifling a Milan Gajic scoring attempt. The Golden Gophers went on to win 5-1. (AP PHOTO)

But in games No. 12 and 13 — last Saturday against Michigan State and on Friday at Minnesota — they gave up a combined eight first-period goals.

Michigan kept up with the Spartans, and the first period ended with the Wolverines down by just one goal. But against Minnesota, it was a different story.

Sophomore Ryan Potulny, who came into the game as the nation’s leading goal-scorer (12), got Minnesota off to an amazingly quick start, scoring two goals before the entire Mariucci Arena crowd had filed into their seats.

“We just didn’t come ready to play, and they were flying right from the get-go,” junior Jeff Tambellini said. “They capitalized on their opportunities.

“Before we knew, it we were down 4-0 and were out of this game.”

As good as he’s been this season, Potulny didn’t need any help from the Wolverines. But Montoya gave up two long rebounds that made it easy for the nation’s leading scorer. Just 3:10 into the first period, Minnesota freshman Ben Gordon got the puck at the top of the right circle and brought it through the Michigan defense to the slot. His shot didn’t make it into the net, but a long rebound gave Potulny a wide-open opportunity. He collected the puck at the bottom of the circle and fired a wrist-shot over Montoya, who was sprawling on the ice.

Just 28 seconds later, Potulny collected another long rebound in the right circle — this time off a shot from defenseman Derek Peltier — and again put the puck past Montoya, while the goalie was lying on the ice.

The two tallies started a four-goal period for the Golden Gophers. By the time Minnesota scored its third goal of the period, it was outshooting the Wolverines 12-2. Michigan got one score late in the period, but trailed 4-1 when the air horn blew.

“We knew it would be a fast-starting game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I think that our team was emotionally ready to start fast, but they weren’t ready to get scored on as quickly as they were.”

Berenson didn’t speculate about why the Wolverines have been starting slow recently, but — whether it was sluggish skating or poor focus — it was clear that they were out of their element.

Just 1:32 into the second period, the Gophers got on the board again. Freshman Kris Chucko won a faceoff in the Michigan zone, and the puck was gathered by defenseman Mike Vannelli at the point. Vannelli brought it into the middle of the zone and put the puck through a lot of traffic in front of the net and past Montoya. The goal gave Minnesota a 5-1 lead.

“We knew they could skate, but they just outplayed us,” Tambellini said. “They were skating tonight, and we were just watching. There were a lot of times when we were just swinging at the puck. No one was ready to stop them. No one was ready to compete. We just didn’t show up tonight.”

It took a little longer on Saturday against Wisconsin, but the Wolverines again fell behind early. Michigan defenseman David Rohlfs lost the puck in his own zone 13 minutes into the game, and it was picked up by Wisconsin junior Nick Licari, who spotted his teammate Ross Carlson right in front of the net. Carlson got the puck through the legs of Montoya to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead.

A late goal in the period by freshman Chad Kolarik tied the game 1-1. But, despite that, the Wolverines were again handled in the first period. Wisconsin outshot Michigan 13-6 in the opening frame.

“I think we probably showed up and competed a little harder than we did last night, but still you can never be happy with a loss, no matter what the score,” alternate captain Brandon Rogers said.

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