Gophers win DHC title, defeat New Hampshire 4-2

The defending two-time national champions aren't going away without a fight. By winning their fifth straight DHC title, the Gophers head into the second half of the season on a high note. Here's how they won.

There is still hope, and reason for optimism.

The University of Minnesota men's hockey team captured its fifth consecutive Dodge Holiday Classic championship Sunday with a 4-2 win over No. 8 New Hampshire at Mariucci Arena. Three Golden Gophers - Matt Koalska, Keith Ballard and Chris Harrington - tallied two points to lead the U in a rematch of 2003 NCAA Championship game, which Minnesota won 5-1 to capture its second consecutive national title. Freshman goaltender Kellen Briggs stopped 27 of 29 shots to seal the win and push Minnesota (9-8-1, 4-7-1 WCHA) above the .500 mark for the first time this season.

Minnesota advanced to the title game with a 9-0 win over Princeton Saturday. UNH defeated Miami of Ohio 3-1 Saturday in its semifinal game. Earlier Sunday, Miami defeated Princeton 5-3 to capture third place.

As for the Gophers, Jon Waibel scored his first goal of the season against UNH, giving the team a 1-0 lead at 8:41 of the first period. Defender P.J. Atherton gained the puck on the side boards and passed to Waibel in front of the net, and Waibel deked around UNH goaltender Mike Ayers to the open net for the go-ahead goal. Sophomore forward Tyler Hirsch earned the second assist on the play. It was also Atherton's first assist of the season.

Minnesota controlled play for much of the opening period, out-shooting the Wildcats 18-10. The Golden Gophers attempted 29 shots to UNH's 18 and hit two pipes.

In the second period Minnesota scored 51 seconds into the period on Matt Koalska's fifth goal of the season. Chris Harrington passed to Koalska at the blue line, and Harrington walked in and went to the upper corner while being dragged down by a Wildcat defenseman. Keith Ballard earned the second assist on the play.

The Gophers pushed the score to 3-0 at 5:18 on Grant Potulny's third point of the weekend. Potulny deflected Ballard's shot from the top of the right circle past Ayers for his seventh goal of the year. Koalska got his second point of the night with the second assist.

New Hampshire cut the lead to two at 7:58 when Preston Callander notched his seventh goal of the season. Callander raced onto the ice after his penalty expired and found himself on a 2-on-1 with Josh Ciocco. Ciocco passed across the slot to Callander to knock into the net past a sprawling Briggs. For the period, Minnesota out-shot UNH, 14-12, for a two-period advantage of 32-22.

It took until the 18:01 mark of the third period for another goal as Callander notched his third of the tournament, picking up a rebound and sweeping it into the net. Nathan Martz gained the lone assist on the play. The Golden Gophers sealed the win, however, as Thomas Vanek scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season, an empty-netter, with one second remaining. Harrington and Troy Riddle were credited with assists on the final goal.

For the game, Minnesota out-shot UNH 48-29, including a 16-7 advantage in the third period. Briggs earned the win to move to 7-5-1 while Ayers got the loss to fall to 9-5-2. Leading the Golden Gopher offensive efforts were Koalska's goal and assist, and Ballard and Harrington's two assists apiece. Koalska was named the Classic MVP in addition to earning All-Tournament honors. Also on the All-Tournament Team were Minnesota's Ballard (D) and Jake Taylor (D), UNH's Callander (F) and Ayers (G), and Miami's Derek Edwardson (F).

Minnesota, winners in seven of its last eight games, has the week off before returning to the Mariucci Arena ice on Friday-Saturday, Jan. 2- 3, to face Boston University.

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