Gophers men’s hockey is a winning program for the first time this season. The Gophers rallied from a 1-0 deficit entering the third period to complete a series sweep against Michigan State with a 3-1 victory on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
The win moves coach Don Lucia’s squad to 11-10 overall after playing most of the past three months with a losing record.
In the Big Ten, though, the Gophers improved to 6-2 and, with Michigan off Saturday, are at the top of the conference standings for at least one day.
Redshirt junior forward Connor Reilly scored the eventual game-winning goal 11 minutes, 34 seconds into the third period by beating Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand through the legs. Junior captain Justin Kloos scored a goal for the third consecutive game, and sophomore forward Leon Bristedt scored a late empty-net goal.
“It’s bizarre, but we’re thrilled,” Kloos said about sitting above .500 for the first time this season. “We’ve been climbing out [of a bad start]. … We’ve come a long way and now we’re over the hump.
“We’ve had so many games where it has just felt like it’s in our grasp and just kind of let them go. And this one was kind of in their grasp and we stole one. … Just a big confidence boost to finish a game like that.”
Gophers freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn had 17 saves, and Hildebrand finished with 29 for the Spartans (5-17-2, 1-7 Big Ten), who lost their eighth game in a row.
Linemates Kloos, Reilly and freshman Tyler Sheehy totaled eight of the Gophers’ nine points. Kloos had three with a goal and two assists and has eight points in the past three games. Reilly had one goal and one assist and Sheehy three assists.
Kloos sparked the Gophers’ big offensive night Friday with a goal 21 seconds into a 5-2 win and on Saturday gave them new life with a goal 31 seconds into the third period to tie the score 1-1.
Hildebrand, the Big Ten’s reigning Player and Goaltender of the Year, played like the conference’s best player throughout the first 40 minutes. However, once Kloos ended Hildebrand’s shutout attempt, the Gophers picked up the pressure and caught Hildebrand in bad position for Reilly’s game-winner.
“At the end of the second [period], Coach came in and told us we weren’t competing hard,” Reilly said. “We knew they were going to push back and play extremely hard. We haven’t swept them in the past two years, so we knew it was going to be a big challenge.
“It’s the first time we’ve been above .500 all year, so it’s [been] way too long. But it feels good. … Reality is at this program we’re expected to win, and I feel like we’re getting better and improving.”
The Gophers have only three sweeps this season, all at home and two coming in Big Ten play.
“The nice thing is we took care of business at home,” Lucia said. “We’re 4-0 in the Big Ten at home.
“We talked about where we were at the beginning of the year to where we are now, the process, that we feel our team has improved. It’s getting better.”