MINNEAPOLIS — An Olympic-sized ice sheet, 15 feet wider than a pro-sized rink, usually opens up the game, allows for more play in the middle of the ice and rewards strong skating and passing.
But this weekend, the Michigan hockey team — which normally plays on a pro-sized rink — struggled mightily to keep up with Minnesota on the larger sheet of ice featured in Mariucci Arena.
The Golden Gophers constantly found themselves behind the Michigan defense and in open space during their 5-1 win over the Wolverines on Friday.
“I don’t think we were ready to play on this sheet of ice,” junior forward Jeff Tambellini said. “They just skated tonight. They moved their feet, and we just weren’t able to keep up to them. By the end of shifts, guys were dying off, and it just wasn’t the performance we were looking for.”
The trip to Minneapolis marked the first time this season that the Wolverines played on Olympic-sized ice. Minnesota coach Don Lucia said his team was hoping to take advantage of the adjustment that Michigan had to make.
“We talked about how there might be some room underneath,” Lucia said. “They like to send two guys into the neutral zone, and we thought maybe we could get one in transition. But it’s an adjustment.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson said that he didn’t want to use the larger ice as an excuse, and he was quick to give all the credit to the Gophers.
“They looked very effective on the ice — whether it was going wide or hitting the late man coming up,” Berenson said. “But we didn’t look good without the puck, and they were a much better team with the puck than we were without it. So our defensive game couldn’t handle their offensive game. When they had the puck, we were in trouble.”
Saving Goalie Ruden: Junior backup goalie Noah Ruden saw his first real action of the season on Friday against Minnesota. Ruden — who had played a total of 18 seconds this season before Friday — came in for the third period after starting goalie Al Montoya gave up five goals in the first two.
“It wasn’t (Montoya),” Berenson said. “The team wasn’t giving him any help. He was holding us in in the second period, and I thought it would be a good time to get him out, give him a breather and think about tomorrow night.”
Ruden looked solid, making 10 saves — including a couple of difficult ones — and holding the Gophers scoreless for the entire third period.
Minnesota actually didn’t score for the last 38 minutes of the game. After starting with four goals in the first 13 minutes, Montoya kept Minnesota scoreless for the last 18 minutes of the second period before sitting in favor of Ruden.
Notes: Michigan’s loss to Minnesota marked its first road loss in the College Hockey Showcase. The Wolverines were previously 5-0-1 on the road and 3-0-0 in Mariucci Arena … Michigan’s two losses marked the second time that the Wolverines have been swept in the Showcase. The only other sweep was last year at Yost Ice Arena.