Four-goal Second Period Propels Gophers to 5-4 Victory
Minneapolis, MN– After putting 86 shots on goal last weekend in South Bend and having only two goals (and zero wins) to show for it, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were looking for offense, with the coaching staff exhorting the players to get to the front of the net and make something happen.
The whole roster responded.
Five different goal-scorers got on the stat sheet for Minnesota by getting their noses dirty, and that offensive outburst led to a hard fought 5-4 Gopher victory over the Wisconsin Badgers (9-7-2 Overall, 3-3-1-0 B1G) Friday night at Mariucci Arena. Mike Szmatula scored the first Gopher goal of the game to record his 100th career point in college hockey (32 with Minnesota).
Gopher head coach Don Lucia changed up his forward lines to try and spark some offense. “We’d gone nine periods with one five-on-five goal,” said Lucia, emphasizing that he wanted to “[get] some heaviness on line.”
Minnesota (10-6-1, 4-4-1-1) didn’t seem to have their legs early, and Wisconsin used that slow Gopher start to get on the board first, scoring at 7:14 of the opening period on the powerplay. Szmatula responded just over two minutes later to tie the game at 1-1, with Brent Gates and Scott Reedy assisting on the play. Szmatula set up shop just outside the crease and tipped the puck past Badger goalie Kyle Hayton to even the game.
“I think we just played in the dirty areas,” said Szmatula. “I think offensively we’re starting to work harder, play in the dirty areas. That was our emphasis this week, so I think we did a good job.”
Bucky scored again at 17:21 of the first on a tap-in; the Gophers missed an assignment tracking back to the net which left Wisconsin’s Jarod Zirbel all alone to put the Badgers up 2-1 heading into the first intermission.
After the first period, Don Lucia tried to rally his troops. “We had to play a little bit better,” he told his team during the period break.
Going to the net was a point of emphasis all week in practice, and that started to pay off in the second.
The Gophers scored four goals between 5:13 and 15:19 of the middle frame to break the game open at 5-2. Tyler Sheehy scored on a tip-in after a nice backdoor pass from Tommy Novak to tie the game at 5:13. Joey Marooney picked up the second assist on the play, his first point as a Gopher.
Rem Pitlick scored the next Gopher goal at 11:54 on a tip-in off a nice Casey Mittelstadt pass, with Scott Reedy picking up his second assist of the night.
Tyler Nanne put the Gophers up 4-2 at 15:19 with a powerplay blast from the point, assisted by Ryan Zuhlsdorf and Tommy Novak.
Zuhlsdorf and Novak each earned another assist just 20 seconds later at 15:39 when Scott Reedy scored on another backdoor tap-in to put the Gophers up 5-2.
Reedy, whose 1G-2A performance was the first multi-point game of his career, also credited the “mindset of getting to the blue paint” and “playing in the dirty areas” as keys to the win. “[We did] a lot of drills where we’d finish stopping at the net-front and delivering pucks to the net, so that’s what we worked on in practice and the coaches put a good emphasis on that, and that’s what we came out and did tonight.”
After the game, Lucia praised the team for seeming to internalize the lessons they’d been working on in practice throughout the week and correlated the ‘dirty area’ mentality with the team’s goal output. “It’s nice when you start to add some details to the game.” Lucia talked about how, when he coached at Alaska-Fairbanks, in practice he “took a bench, put it on each side of the net along the goal line. So, they’re going to stop at the net!” He liked seeing that same thing from this Gopher team in the second period.
Wisconsin fought back, scoring late in the second to draw within two and again midway through the third on the powerplay to inch within one goal, but Minnesota killed a late-game powerplay and masterfully ran the clock as time wound down.
Lucia also praised his team for their play when Wisconsin had pulled their goalie for an extra attacker, citing a situation earlier in the year when they may not have made the right decision with the puck: “There was a [game], Tommy [Novak] had the puck with 30 seconds to go earlier in the year, he went for the open net. He didn’t get it, and the puck came back down into our zone as opposed to putting the puck behind the goal line, trying to get on top of it, kill more time, so those are situational awarenesses that we did tonight that I liked, and it shows that they’re listening and growing as a group.”
The win snapped a streak of two consecutive B1G losses – the Gophers have never lost more than two straight since the re-formation of the Big Ten conference in 2014. The win was also the team’s eight-straight victory at home. Minnesota is now 8-1 at Mariucci Arena this season after dropping the home-opener 3-1 to Penn State.
Lucia and Szmatula talked about cleaning up the Gophers’ game for Saturday evening’s rematch. The game is at 7PM and can be seen on FSN+, streamed on Fox Sports Go and BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.