It was a long summer for the Gophers, defenseman Ryan Collins remembered just days before a chance at some redemption. Minnesota Duluth was coming to town almost six months after embarrassing the Gophers in the first round of the NCAA tournament 4-1 to end their season and notch a fourth consecutive win against its rival.
Well, it might also be a long season for the Gophers. UMD continued its winning streak with a 3-1 victory on Friday night in front of an announced crowd of 10,075 at Mariucci Arena and bumped the Gophers to 0-2.
The last time the Gophers started a season so poorly was 2009-2010. They were 0-3-1 after four games and eventually finished seventh in the WCHA. They would lose in the first round of the conference tournament and miss the NCAA tournament for just the second time in 10 seasons.
“We knew what it was going to be like with this group. We just have to keep teaching and be patient and show them the areas we can grow,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “There’s obviously a lot of areas with this group where they can grow.”
Lucia started his postgame news conference with some sarcasm mixed with positivity. “We scored a goal. So making progress,” he said.
The Gophers (0-2) went 105 minutes, 40 seconds into the season before scoring. Freshman Brent Gates Jr. was responsible for ending the drought.
Jared Thomas, Austin Farley and Dominic Toninato scored goals for the Bulldogs. UMD goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo finished with 23 saves. Gophers freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn had 32 saves in his second career start.
The Bulldogs have now won five consecutive games against the Gophers and will go for No. 6 on Saturday night in Duluth, the final scheduled meeting between the rivals this season.
“We’re close, but we’re not quite there yet,” junior forward Hudson Fasching said. “We’re trying to build a team, trying to build some cohesion, but it’s kind of tough right now for us. We haven’t quite figured it out. We’re a step short.”
It’s still too early to panic despite the slow start and, as Lucia said, patience will be required. However, the lack of scoring and six penalties the Gophers collected on Friday are concerning.
Gates scored their lone goal of the season 5:40 into the third period when he beat a defender to a loose puck in the front of the net to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 2-1. The taste of success didn’t last long. Toninato scored 32 seconds later to restore the Bulldogs’ two-goal lead at 3-1.
Even with the goalie pulled and an extra attacker on the ice for the final two minutes, the Gophers struggled to create good scoring chances. They only had eight shots on goal in the first period, four in the second period, and finished with 24. UMD had 35.
“It was a really big step for our team to get the first goal of the year, but the shifts right after that are just as big as the goal, and we let up a goal right after,” Gophers defenseman Michael Brodzinski said. “It just killed the fans and killed everyone on the bench, and we need that momentum against a team like that.”
The Bulldogs capitalized on the Gophers’ penalty problems with two power-play goals. Thomas and Farley both scored on the power play in the second period.
Farley taunted the Gophers’ student section after his goal.
“Both teams came in looking for a win after losing their [season openers],” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We won the special teams game and won the game, too.”