Minneapolis, MN – The “speed limit” certainly increased on the Gopher season this weekend.
After the Mercyhurst series, coach Bob Motzko mentioned several times that the sledding got tougher for this Minnesota team immediately, with home-and-homes against #2 St. Cloud and #5 Minnesota-Duluth before launching into their Big Ten schedule.
The Gophers (3-1-0) split with the St. Cloud State Huskies (4-2-0), with both teams winning on the road. St. Cloud came out on top Friday 2-1 despite Minnesota carrying the play for the majority of the game, but the Gophers won in 3×3 overtime to squeak out of St. Cloud with a 4-3 win Saturday night.
Everyone was curious how the Gophers would fare against a quality opponent in St. Cloud, and if the first period Friday was any indication, they fared quite well. Minnesota dominated the opening frame at home on Friday, out-chancing, out-shooting, and out-possessing the veteran Huskies significantly. However, as so often happens in hockey, the Gophers weren’t able to turn any of that advantage into goals on the scoreboard, and one blueline mishandle later it was St. Cloud that took a 1-0 lead against the run of play into the 1st intermission.
No goals were scored in the 2nd, but Chaz Lucius scored his first Gopher goal at 6:42 of the third to tie the game at 1-1. St. Cloud’s Mason Salquist snuck in a rebound at 9:57 to put the Huskies back up 2-1, and despite another impressive period Minnesota was unable to beat SCSU goalie David Hrenak.
Saturday’s game was held in St. Cloud in front of a raucous and rowdy crowd, and they were treated to a show. SCSU’s Sam Hentges got the home crowd rocking about halfway through the first period with a goal to put the Huskies up 1-0. Minnesota answered back with a pair of goals in the second, from Aaron Huglen (his first as a Gopher) and Bryce Brodzinski to take their first lead of the weekend at 2-1. St. Cloud’s Jack Peart tied the game at 2-2 just 1:19 into the 3rd, but Sammy Walker scored less than a minute later to regain the Gopher lead at 3-2, and they would try to manage the slim one-goal lead to the end of the game.
Very few penalties were called throughout the game, and Minnesota has been the least-penalized team in the country the past few seasons, but St. Cloud was given two powerplay chances in the final 10 minutes of the third period to attempt to tie the game. The Gophers killed the first chance, a tripping call on captain Sammy Walker at 12:11 of the period, but were stung just seven seconds into a cross-checking penalty called on captain Ben Meyers at 16:44 of the third.
Just like that, the game was tied 3-3 with 3:09 left in the period, and after leading for most of the game, Minnesota found themselves tied up. The Gophers were able to hang on to head into 3×3 overtime. In the extra session, the Gophers won the opening draw but lost the puck in the offensive zone. St. Cloud’s Nick Perbix collected the puck and turned up the ice behind his own net, with Blake McLaughlin hot in pursuit. McLaughlin got his stick up and tugged on Perbix’s jersey, and Perbix went down theatrically, losing control of the puck. The crowd was adamant, demanding a penalty, but the referee was right there and indicated that he thought Perbix had dived, so they played on.
McLaughlin collected the puck on the ensuing play and found a sneaky Sammy Walker, who had leaked into open ice. Walker put a slick move on Hrenak and scored to win it 4-3 for Minnesota. The crowd was livid after the non-call, and started throwing things on the ice, but nothing they did would alter the outcome.
The series goes as a split for record purposes, but the Pairwise sees things a bit differently – overtime wins are counted as 55% of a win in the PWR calculations.
Up next for Minnesota is another home-and-home with in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers host the Bulldogs Friday at 7, and travel to Duluth Saturday night at 7:07.