Fashionably late, Colorado College’s new top line made a big entrance Friday night.
A goal from Minnesota’s Tyler Nanne 1:53 into the game stood for nearly two and a half periods. Chris Wilkie lifted the apparent scoring embargo midway through the third period, tying the game. The Tigers were off from there, winning their season opener 3-2.
Ten seconds after Scott Reedy gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead, Wilkie drilled home his second of the night. Nick Halloran tucked himself inside the blue line and waited. Wilkie zoomed in and buried the pass from one knee.
He also orchestrated the Tigers’ game-winning goal, putting a perfect pass on the stick of Ben Copeland. Copeland redirected it past Jack LaFontaine (28 saves) who was solid before Copeland’s line heated up.
Halloran assisted on all three goals and Copeland added a helper. Wilkie said the three were excited to play together even last year.
“Those guys bring so much speed and skill,” he said. “I think my job’s just to find open ice and put the pucks on net and let them carry it through the zone.
“I’m excited for what’s to come.”
In net, the coaching staff opted for graduate transfer Ryan Ruck, who has 86 games under his belt, over freshman Matt Vernon and junior Jon Flakne, who have no college starts between them. Ruck made 28 saves in front of an appreciative crowd at The Broadmoor World Arena.
The Tigers went with three freshmen defensemen - Chad Sasaki, Connor Mayer and Brady Smith - and two forwards, Josiah Slavin and Patrick Cozzi.
Wilkie wasted no time dinging up a perfectly nice crossbar, sending two pucks clanging off harmlessly in the first six minutes.
The redshirt senior hit the post for a third time before tying the game. His hard shot from the faceoff circle found twine instead of iron.
“A little frustration creeps in, but I think just sticking with it and knowing it’s going to come (helps),” Wilkie said.
After Minnesota struck first with defenseman and captain Nanne blowing one past Ruck, the CC goalie kept the Gophers from doubling the lead with a highlight-reel save. Sampo Ranta was skulking at the back door and Ruck had to fully extend his left leg to deny him.
Ruck also had his fair share of luck - bouncing pucks, rebounds sitting in the crease that no one saw, a wide-open cage the Gophers couldn’t get to. Minnesota went wide on premium chances again and again.
Kristian Blumenschein, who was injured during warmups for CC’s exhibition game against Trinity Western, again sat out. The Tigers’ power play could have used him, going 1-for-5. That one was a big one, however - Wilkie’s first.
The youth infusion on the blue line partially explained several bad turnovers in their own end.
“I think we had a couple times coming off the half wall or throwing pucks to the middle where they kind of countered quick,” Wilkie said. “...We’ve just got to be a little smarter with the puck and manage it better and I think we limit those chances.”
Wilkie’s hat trick bid on an open net went well wide.
Coach Mike Haviland called it a “great character win” over a team that has had the Tigers’ number through a long and storied history.
“It was a pretty entertaining hockey game for a first game of the year,” he said.