The Gophers men’s hockey team was forced into a “next man up” attitude when the news of Connor Reilly’s injury clouded the locker room this week.
It will be about a month before Reilly will be revaluated for a hopeful return or possible surgery, but the first chance for others to fill the top goal-scorer’s significant void produced promising results. Several Gophers identified themselves as the next player to step up during Friday night’s 4-2 victory over Ohio State at Mariucci Arena.
Justin Kloos, who hadn’t scored a goal since Jan. 9, ended his seven-game drought with a goal and an assist.
Leon Bristedt scored his second goal in three games to extend a three-game point streak and record only his fourth goal of the season.
Vinni Lettieri also scored his second goal in three games for his fifth of the season, and he contributed an assist as well.
“Connor is one of our best goal-scorers and Leon might not have gotten that opportunity,” Kloos said, “but it was good to see him capitalize and hopefully we can continue to get goal-scoring from all of our lines like tonight.”
Like Bristedt, the Gophers (13-9-3, 4-2-3 Big Ten) need Kloos to score and regain his confidence if the team is going to turn things around in the second half.
“The most frustrating part is a lot of those games, I missed the gimmes and our team ended up losing by one or tying,” Kloos said. “But it was good to help the team win and it was a big Friday win and we’ll get the chance for a sweep tomorrow.”
Even Travis Boyd, who proclaimed earlier this week that the Gophers like to have that “next man up” mentality, scored a goal against the Buckeyes (7-14-2, 2-7). And in addition to the four goal-scorers, Christian Isackson had an assist to put together back-to-back scoring efforts for the first time this season. Ryan Collins handed out his first assist and point in seven games, and Taylor Cammarata has now scored a point in three consecutive games after a two-assist night.
The Gophers produced 42 shots on goal, compared to 23 for Ohio State. Adam Wilcox finished with 21 saves for the Gophers, including a fully extended glove save in the first period on a power-play blast from Anthony Greco.
The defense — which has been a significant part of the team’s problems over the past two-plus months as it fell from No. 1 in the nation to unranked — was just as productive. The Gophers limited turnovers, killed two power plays and were more efficient leaving their own zone.
“We had good production throughout the lineup,” coach Don Lucia said. “I thought there were some more details through our game. I thought we did a good job making sure we mark guys in our own zone. We turned one over late, which was too bad, but other than that I thought we played a pretty solid complete game.”
Ohio State’s goals, from Greco and Nick Oddo, were scored with two defensemen on their heels. Greco’s goal early in the second period cut the Buckeyes’ deficit to 2-1, but a string of penalties gave the Gophers a chance to close out the game early.
Boyd scored 10 seconds into the Gophers’ second successful power play of the game, and Lettieri tipped in Isackson’s shot just as their fourth power play expired.
The Gophers will go for their first sweep since Notre Dame Nov. 7-9 on Saturday night.
“I have a good opportunity here,” Bristedt said. “Connor is out unfortunately, and someone is going to have to fill his spot and I get the chance here, and just step up and take it.”