COLORADO SPRINGS – The Gophers’ youth put them in a position to win, but a Colorado College senior denied them in the season opener for both teams.
Goaltender Jack LaFontaine kept the Tigers off the board for more than two periods, but they finally broke through, getting two goals and an assist from senior winger Chris Wilkie in a 3-2 Colorado College win at the Broadmoor Arena on Friday night.
LaFontaine finished with 28 saves, many of them impressive, but the Gophers couldn’t overcome five power-play chances by the Tigers. They converted on one and scored the game-winner as another was expiring.
Tyler Nanne and Scott Reedy scored for Minnesota, but the Gophers couldn’t hold a pair of one-goal leads.
“This one stings, it really does, but it’s early and we’re going to learn from it,” said Nanne, who scored on the Gophers’ first shot of the season.
This was the first time since the 2012-13 season the former WCHA rivals have met. LaFontaine was sharp, and what he didn’t stop early his posts did until the third period.
“We made some really costly mistakes in the last 10 minutes, took penalties, and we weren’t able to close it out,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said.
LaFontaine played for Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League last season and joined the Gophers this spring. His last college hockey game was Feb. 3, 2018, when he was with Michigan, and he got tested early in his return to the NCAA level.
“The first [shot] went off the crossbar so a little shaky obviously, but once I calmed down I came into my own,” he said. “I let the game come to me. The third period was a little bit sloppy, but you’ve got to keep it positive. This is the first game; we have 11 freshmen.”
Nanne gave Minnesota a boost early. His straight-on blast went off the inside of the crossbar at 1:53.
It stayed that way until midway through the third period, and then the goals came in bunches. Wilkie tied it on Colorado College’s power play at 9:10. At 11:53, the Gophers’ Brannon McManus fed Reedy in front, and he tapped it in to make it 2-1.
The Tigers took just 10 seconds to get the equalizer on Wilkie’s second goal of the game.
The winner came four minutes later, when Wilkie fed Ben Copeland in front of the net, and he redirected the puck past LaFontaine at 15:14.
“He’s got a cannon of a shot,” LaFontaine said of Wilkie. “I knew there was a backdoor guy there, I had my head on a swivel, but you’ve got to respect him.”
Said Motzko: “We didn’t get a lot of chances but I really liked how we played in the second period. They had very few chances and we really were coming. We opened the third period doing the same thing. It was just the mistakes in the last 10 minutes.”
The Gophers kept up the pressure in the third period, creating several scoring chances but couldn’t finish.