Humbled by Penn State by a combined nine goals while being swept at home last week, the Gophers men’s hockey team knew it had to change its approach for its Border Battle series against Wisconsin.
“It starts with our preparation,’’ Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine said. “It’s an attitude thing with us. It’s … not being complacent and being a little more intense.’’
Consider the intensity ramped up by the team as a whole, and LaFontaine in particular, after the Gophers defeated Wisconsin 4-1 in front of an announced 7,903 on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
LaFontaine tied his career high with 34 saves, and the Gophers (5-6-2, 2-3-2-2 Big Ten) got first-period goals from Blake McLaughlin and Scott Reedy and third-period tallies by Jonny Sorenson and Sampo Ranta to take the series opener.
LaFontaine had to leave the game with 6:51 left in the third because of an unspecified upper-body injury, and Jared Moe stopped two shots to secure the victory over the Badgers (6-7, 1-4).
“He’s been champing at the bit to have a good game for us,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of LaFontaine. “… Jack was strong, and we needed him to be.”
LaFontaine’s status for Saturday night’s finale is uncertain, though he and Moe have been splitting starts most weekends. If it’s Moe getting the nod, he would benefit from the type of start the Gophers gave LaFontaine.
McLaughlin and Reedy scored 1:07 apart in the first 5:33 of the first period, marking the third time in the past four Big Ten home games that Minnesota built a two-goal advantage. The Gophers couldn’t hold those leads in losses to Notre Dame and Penn State, but they did so against Wisconsin largely by keeping the Badgers’ most productive line in check.
The trio of Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Roman Ahcan had combined for 20 goals and 22 assists entering the game. They left with one assist, Caufield’s helper on Sean Dhooghe’s second-period power-play goal.
“They’ve got this insane connection,’’ LaFontaine said of the trio. “It’s like a French Connection even though they’re not French.”
The Badgers, led by Caufield, the No. 15 overall NHL draft pick by Montreal in June, and Turcotte, the No. 5 overall selection by Los Angeles, applied heavy pressure in the second period, thanks to three Gophers penalties. LaFontaine led the kill on the first penalty by making six saves and Minnesota doused a five-on-three disadvantage, only to see Dhooghe sneak one past LaFontaine at 11:18 of the second.
That, however, was all the Badgers would get as Minnesota blocked 29 shots.
Sorenson, responsible for two penalties in the second, made it 3-1 at 6:45 of the third, and Ranta sealed it at 12:54 with a nifty backhander.
“The weekend’s not over,” LaFontaine cautioned. “We’re 50% of the way done, and we’ve got to finish it off.”
Defensive prospects added for 2020-21
A pair of defensive prospects — Brock Faber and Mike Koster — signed national letters of intent with the Gophers men’s hockey program for the 2020-21 season, Motzko announced.
Faber, a 6-foot, 182-pounder from Maple Grove, is in his second season with the U.S. National Team Development Program. He is considered a second- or third-round prospect for the 2020 NHL draft by NHL Central Scouting.
Koster, a 5-9, 175-pounder playing with Tri-City of the USHL, was a fifth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2019 NHL draft. He spent the past four seasons at Chaska High School, amassing 19 goals and 40 assists in 24 games as a senior captain for the Hawks.