Judging only from the 7-4 final score, it would appear everything went swimmingly for the Gophers men’s hockey team as they took down reigning national champion Minnesota Duluth after failing to do so for the past nine consecutive meetings.
But new coach Bob Motzko would be the first to reveal how the goal stats certainly don’t always tell the whole story.
“Rabs and I walked out onto the visiting bench to start the game,” Motzko said of himself and longtime assistant Garrett Raboin. “I swear, we did. And then Sandy [UMD coach Scott Sandelin] had to kick us off. … It’s got to be on film somewhere.”
Motzko eventually found the right bench from which to take in his first home game with the program, where an announced 8,115 fans propelled the No. 13 Gophers to a three-goal victory margin against the preseason No. 1 pick at 3M Arena at Mariucci. With a 1-1 overtime tie in Duluth on Saturday, the Gophers snagged their first series under Motzko.
While the Gophers broke out with three unanswered goals in the first period, they ended the game outshot 46-22, mainly because they committed nine penalties amounting to 29 minutes and spent much of the game on the penalty kill.
Senior winger Jack Ramsey said it felt “unbelievable” to beat UMD for the first time in his collegiate career, but the second period where the Gophers racked up the bulk of their penalties and let the Bulldogs within one goal at one point was a serious drawback.
“There were some sketchy moments,” as Ramsey called them. “The second period was a little scary.”
Sophomore winger Brannon McManus tallied two first-period goals and senior winger Tyler Sheehy added another. But UMD freshman center Noah Cates scored Duluth’s first goal on the power play about halfway through the second period before sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson added another about five minutes later.
But despite the Gophers having a grand total of three second-period shots, they scored twice: once from freshman winger Sammy Walker on a 4-on-4 and another from junior center Rem Pitlick on a shorthanded breakaway.
An early third-period score from freshman winger Garrett Wait sent UMD junior goalie Hunter Shepard to the bench in favor of junior Nick Deery. But Bulldogs freshman winger Jackson Cates would score twice in the final period — with Gophers freshman winger Sampo Ranta’s second goal of the series sandwiched in between — including once on the power play.
McManus said “all [the Gophers] do in practice is work on goal-scoring,” so in that way, Sunday was a success, with 11 players contributing at least one goal or assist. But Motzko said he is looking forward to two exhibition games the next two weeks because his team needs more preparation in order to clean up the penalty situation, which mainly plagues his young defensemen.
The Gophers weren’t completely hapless on that front, though, blocking 14 shots and relying on a 42-save game from junior goalie Mat Robson.
And in the end, confidence might be the biggest takeaway of all for the Gophers.
“I think that we can do it,” Ramsey said of what he learned about this team after the first two games. “Going into this season, there’s fans, there’s media that have doubts and stuff. And I think there’s a pretty good student section, a pretty good amount of fans that are coming out to see the Bob era of Gopher hockey and see what it’s going to be. And I think we put a good showing in [Sunday].”