Freshman winger Nathan Burke battled a month-long bout with mono that set him well far behind his teammates in terms of fitness to start the season. But in just his third game this season, he left the ice the hero.
Burke scored his first and second goal for the Gophers on Saturday in a revenge 3-0 victory against St. Lawrence to split the series at 3M Arena at Mariucci in front of an announced 8,098 fans. The Gophers lost 4-3 in overtime on Friday.
The Arizona native redirected junior defenseman Tyler Nanne’s pass in the first period and then pulled off a spin-o-rama in the second for the win. Senior goaltender Eric Schierhorn called it SportsCenter-worthy. Fellow freshman Sammy Walker then added a third on a breakaway with just a couple minutes to play.
“It’s exciting. We’ve been working hard in practice, and after last night, it was definitely cool to bounce back and help my team out,” Burke said. “I have great linemates, Walker and [Blake] McLaughlin. They did all the work, I just happened to go to the right places. So it definitely felt amazing. I don’t know. I’m kind of speechless about it.”
Schierhorn also earned the shutout, stopping all 12 of St. Lawrence’s shots. The Gophers, meanwhile, shot off 31.
“I mean, our guys were dialed in,” Schierhorn said. “I’ll take a shutout whenever I can get it. Not knocking St. Lawrence: that was probably the easiest shutout that I’ve had in college hockey. But that’s a credit to my team.”
Coach Bob Motzko was disappointed in Friday’s step back, but seemed optimistic Saturday was a firm turnaround.
“I hope that this is another staple another stamp of a direction turn in our compete level,” Motzko said. “We had to make some changes. We made some changes in our lineup. We made some changes in our lines. But they made the change in how they were going to play.”
Mittelstadt returns to Minnesota as a pro
And now for last year’s No. 21 (Burke wears it now) on the Gophers and former Eden Prairie star Casey Mittelstadt. He was in town with the Buffalo Sabres for the first time and beat the Wild earlier Saturday in St. Paul. But the forward shared some thoughts ahead of that game.
He said his parents rented out a bar for 85 family members and friends while another 30 of just Mittelstadt’s friends were coming to the game. Unfortunately, that didn’t include any of his Gophers besties.
“They’re not going to be here, which is tough, but it’s good, though. I talk to all of them quite a bit. I talk to them pretty much every day, I guess, my best buddies on that team. So I keep in touch with them a lot,” Mittelstadt said. “When I get home during the summer, I’ll see all of them. They all live at school. So I’ll see them all quite a bit. So it’ll be fun to catch up with them for sure.”
Mittelstadt said his Buffalo teammate Kyle Okposo has been a big help in his adjustment to the pros, as Okposo also left the Gophers program early and has embraced the role of being Mittelstadt’s mentor. There’s a few other Minnesotans and former Gophers Mittelstadt also idolizes, which he revealed when reflecting on the upcoming high school hockey state tournament.
“For a young hockey player like me growing up, it was pretty much everything. I think that’s what we always dreamed of,” he said. “Those high school players became celebrities, I think. They were pretty much even with an NHL player. Guys for me were, like, Kyle Rau and Nick Leddy. They played at Eden Prairie, and I put them even up with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane, guys like that.”