Sounds of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home’’ and shouts of joy blared from the locker room, with the Gophers men’s hockey team celebrating its biggest triumph so far of this rebuilding season.
Behind a three-goal surge in the second period and stellar goaltending from tournament MVP Jack LaFontaine, the Gophers defeated St. Cloud State 4-1 on Sunday night in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic. That gave the Gophers some in-state bragging rights from the all-Minnesota tournament and some needed momentum after a 5-9-4 first half of the season.
“This is huge for us, to start off the second half,’’ said LaFontaine, who made 24 saves and came up big in a five-on-three disadvantage in the second period. “Coach Motzko told us he’s seen a lot of special second halves. This is great for us.’’
Goals by Sammy Walker, Tyler Nanne and Bryce Brodzinski in a span of 1 minute, 40 seconds in the second period in front of an announced 6,772 at 3M Arena at Mariucci helped the Gophers win the Classic for the 15th time in 27 tries and for the first time with an all-Minnesota field.
“We had a very strong game,’’ said coach Bob Motzko, who got a victory in his first game against the team he coached from 2005-18. “Special teams, penalty kill, offensive zone time, great goaltending. … Our guys came to play.’’
The Gophers (7-9-4) won consecutive games for the first time since mid-October, coupling the victory over the Huskies with Saturday’s 5-2 triumph over Bemidji State. They did so by cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first half and winning puck battles.
“That has been the biggest thing we’re talking about is puck management and playing a ground game,’’ Motzko said. “You have to have both and a swagger about your game.’’
The Gophers put that swagger on full display early in the second period.
On a power play, Walker put the Gophers up 1-0 by snapping a shot through a screen and past goalie Jaxon Castor at 3:46. Only 44 seconds later, Nanne’s shot from the point made it 2-0, and the Huskies pulled Castor in favor of David Hrenak.
No matter. The Gophers made it 3-0 at 5:26 when Blake McLaughlin grabbed the puck at the blue line and fed a streaking Bryce Brodzinski, who beat Hrenak for Minnesota’s third goal in as many shots. By the time Brodzinski scored, the Gophers were outshooting the Huskies 11-1 in the period.
Brodzinski, a freshman, was playing against his brother, Easton, a Huskies junior, for the first time.
“It’s not too often that you play against your brother and even less often that you get to beat your older brother,’’ Bryce said.
Late in the second period, St. Cloud State had a chance to get back in the game with a five-on-three power play for 1:09. Instead, the Gophers killed both penalties as LaFontaine made three saves and Scott Reedy and Ryan Zuhlsdorf each blocked two shots.
“How ’bout those guys on the five-on-three?’’ said LaFontaine, whose shutout bid ended with 1:38 left in the third on Micah Miller’s goal. “They were unbelievable.’’
Said Motzko of LaFontaine: “He made some saves tonight where that could have become more of a hockey game.’’
All-tournament team: Joining LaFontaine on the all-tournament team were Walker, Nanne, St. Cloud State forwards Zach Okabe and Jami Krannila and Huskies defenseman Nick Perbix.