The Gophers men’s hockey team’s fourth lines were called to the coach’s office this week.
“He really challenged us. We only had maybe a goal and four assists in 12 games,” redshirt freshman Connor Reilly said. “I took that a little personal and said I gotta step and do something.”
The whole group did plenty in a weekend sweep of Michigan, capped by a 4-1 victory on Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 10,495 at Mariucci Arena. The freshmen-laden lines scored the go-ahead goal and contributed four points.
Vinni Lettieri led the effort with two assists to complete a three-point weekend. It was the first multipoint game of his career. Reilly scored the eventual game-winning goal early in the second period, and Gabe Guertler picked up an assist a night after scoring his first goal. The trio combined for seven points in the sweep.
The Gophers got contributions from others on Saturday, too. Freshman Hudson Fasching had a goal and assist, Kyle Rau had two assists and goalie Adam Wilcox made 28 saves.
The trend of fourth-line success picked up steam two weeks ago with Ryan Reilly, Christian Isackson and Lettieri. The group played a big role in a 1-0 victory over Michigan State, and coach Don Lucia took notice. “Good energy” is how Lucia described it, and he wanted more it from the variation of six players who staff the line.
Connor Reilly, Guertler and Lettieri promptly answered the call Friday night. The trio produced a goal that deflated Michigan’s momentum late in the third period.
The line even shared some of its success with senior Nate Condon on Saturday. Lettieri’s second assist set up Condon’s goal for 3-1 lead at 15 minutes, 20 seconds of the second period.
“We always expect a goal or two out of two top lines, and any time our fourth line can pitch in and get a couple goals here and there, it’s just going to help our team even more,” Condon said. “I think the coaches talked to the fourth line and talked to them about picking up their scoring, and they answered pretty well here.”
Michigan avoided another slow start and took the early lead on Andrew Sinelli’s goal 91 seconds into the game. The goal came on one of only two shots on goal the Wolverines would get off in the first 13 minutes, though.
The Gophers outshot their opponent 10-4 in the first period, and Sam Warning ended a seven-game goal drought to tie the score 2:14 before the first intermission.
Once again, though, Michigan chipped away at the shots deficit and eventually led the category 29-24.
The Gophers were victims of a hit to the head on consecutive nights from the same offender. Early in the third period, Michigan’s Michael Downing leveled Warning, who was slow to get up. Downing was disqualified, again, with a game misconduct.
The Gophers capitalized on the extended power play. Three minutes into the power play, Fasching cleaned up Rau’s and Travis Boyd’s attempts for a 4-1 lead.
“The goals are precious this weekend, and we couldn’t get another one,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I thought we came out good in the first period, the second period and the third period, but you got to capitalize on those chances.”