After his team was humiliated in a six-goal loss to North Dakota on Thanksgiving night, Gophers men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko was eager to see how his players would respond on Friday against the third-ranked Fighting Hawks.
Minnesota’s energy, focus and compete level were much better in the series finale, and the pace of play on both sides resembled memorable battles from the teams’ days as WCHA rivals. The result, however, didn’t change over 24 hours as North Dakota hung on for a 3-2 victory and sweep at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
“I hate lessons, but we learned one and they’re not fun,” Motzko said, referring to Thursday’s 9-3 loss. “… To a man, we came with an effort tonight to play a hockey game against a really good hockey team. Unfortunately, we made a couple of mistakes, and it cost us.”
Jasper Weatherby and Jordan Kawaguchi scored in the second period, when North Dakota (12-1-2) took control to extend its unbeaten streak to 11 games (10-0-1). The Fighting Hawks, perhaps sending a message by wearing the black sweaters they designate for games of added importance, faced a Gophers team looking to atone.
Minnesota (5-8-3) got goals from senior defenseman Tyler Nanne in the first period and freshman forward Ben Meyers in the third. Goalie Jared Moe made 19 saves as the Gophers outshot UND 25-22.
Early on, things were in Minnesota’s favor, with Nanne scoring for a 1-0 lead 2:41 into the game during a four-on-four situation. Nanne intercepted a clearing pass and took a shot from the point that goalie Adam Scheel couldn’t stop.
“Tyler responded like a captain tonight,” Motzko said.
Nanne’s goal drew a roar from the Minnesota portion of a crowd of 9,823 that was much more evenly split than Thursday, when the UND faithful created an Engelstad South-like atmosphere as the goals piled up.
“That was probably the coolest atmosphere I ever played in,” Moe said of Friday’s game. “They had a lot of fans; we had a lot of fans. … The energy, you could feel it.”
North Dakota tapped that energy at 12:42 of the first when Judd Caulfield stole the puck from Gophers defenseman Jackson LaCombe behind the Minnesota net and fed Shane Pinto, who beat Moe to tie the score 1-1.
North Dakota grabbed momentum in the second period, with Weatherby collecting a rebound of a Colton Poolman shot and backhanding the puck into the net for a 2-1 lead 3:04 into the period. Kawaguchi made it 3-1 at 9:48 with his third goal of the series.
The Gophers responded in the third period on the power play when Meyers took a cross-ice pass from Sammy Walker and beat Scheel at 6:27 to trim the lead to 3-2.
“He’s going to be a great one, and he’s starting to catch on right now,” Motzko said of Meyers, who had two goals on the weekend.
The Gophers pushed for the tying goal and pulled Moe for an extra attacker with 1:20 left but couldn’t get another puck past Scheel.
Afterward, Moe, one of nine freshmen playing key roles for the Gophers, saw growth from Thursday’s clunker.
“We needed to come prepared,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, and we’ve got to find out who’s going to turn the program around and who’s committed.”