Gophers Steal 4-3 Win in Michigan, Go Into Xmas Break on High Note

Ann Arbor, MI – Goaltender Mat Robson made up for a puckhandling error which resulted in goal by stopping 50-of-53 Michigan shots, and the Gophers came back with two goals in the third period to go into the holiday break with a 4-3 win over Michigan.

Friday’s game saw a good 10-minute stretch of play in the second period from the Gophers, and Saturday started as if Minnesota (5-6-4 Overall, 3-2-3 B1G) would pick right up from there.  The Gophers were all over Michigan (6-7-4, 2-4-4) in the first few minutes of action, picking up two quick goals from Brannon McManus (1:08 into the period) and Sampo Ranta (4:34 into the period) to jump out to a 2-0 lead before the five-minute mark of the opening frame.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson took a timeout at that point to settle his team down, and it seemed to work.  The momentum shifted, and a few minutes later Michigan had tied the game with quick goals of their own from the Pastujov brothers Nick (7:43 into the period) and Michael (9:26 into the period).

From the timeout on, it was hanging-on time for the Gophers.  Michigan spent four and a half of the period’s final seven minutes on the power play, including 54 seconds of five-on-three, but Minnesota’s penalty kill remained perfect for the weekend and stoned the Wolverine power play to head into the second tied at 2-2.

Robson’s puckhandling error came about seven minutes into the second period.  The puck got away from him when handling behind the net, and a quick Michigan forecheck turned the puck over to Josh Norris in the slot, who buried it for his 10th goal of the season.  The goal put the Wolverines ahead 3-2, and with their advantage in chances it seemed inevitable that they’d expand upon that lead.

Robson was brilliant the rest of the game, though, helping the Gophers kill off another three Michigan powerplays in the late second and early third periods.  The Gophers killed all six Michigan powerplays on Saturday (along with the two on Friday), and the penalty kill improved to eighth-best in the nation at 87 percent.  Minnesota has now given up just one powerplay goal in their last 29 shorthanded situations (96.6% over that stretch).

The third period was a better effort from the Gophers, and they were rewarded for it.  Tyler Sheehy scored just 55 seconds into the third to tie the game at 3-3.  The teams traded chances throughout the third, with Michigan generally having the better of the possession and of the scoring opportunities, although the final shots in the period were only 13-9 in favor of the Maize and Blue.

Coming down to the wire it was anybody’s game, and Minnesota took advantage.  Brent Gates Jr. tipped a Jack Sadek shot from the blue line past Michigan goalie Strauss Mann and into the net at 18:19 of the third to give the Gophers their first lead since the middle of the first period, and they were able to hold on in the final 1:41 to win 4-3 as the buzzer sounded.

Final shots on goal were 53-28 in favor of the Wolverines.

The Gophers now have a few weeks off for the holiday break before hosing Ferris State the weekend of December 28th / 29th.


-Maybe my calling out Novak and Ranta worked?  The McManus-Novak-Ranta line played their best game of the season Saturday, contributing the first two goals of the game and generally creating offensive chances when they were out on the ice.  It’s nice to see that group having success heading into the break.

-All the upperclassmen I suggested needed to contribute more did so Saturday.  Tyler Sheehy scored the game-tying goal in the third, and Brent Gates scored the game-winner, both on effort plays.  Novak assisted on the McManus goal.

-Darian Romanko did dress Saturday, but as the ‘extra skater’, and didn’t get much ice time.  I’ve made my affinity for Romanko known, but the team looked okay without him Friday and without much of him Saturday, and I do like the new-look fourth line with Scott Reedy getting regular minutes.  Reedy is good enough that he needs to play a regular shift every night, and he actually can score a goal every once in a while, so maybe his presence on that line along with the high work-rates of Ramsey and Norman (or Wait or Romanko) can result in a few more goals.

-Coach Motzko shortened the bench in the third period Saturday, rarely sending the Ramsey-Reedy-Norman unit out at all.  This is something Don Lucia never did, so something for fans to look for after the break.

-The defense is still bad.  They need a lot of work.  Too many turnovers trying to break out of the zone result in games where the Gophers get outshot badly.  Hopefully Garret Raboin, the coach in charge of the D, can work on it with the defensemen over the break.

-I never saw final stats on the faceoffs, but at one point late in the third period they were 38-19 in favor of Michigan.  Bad faceoffs + bad breakouts = lots of puck time for the opponent.  The Gophers did win the offensive zone draw leading to the game-winning goal – faceoffs matter.  Another thing to work on over the break.

-Wow is Mat Robson good.  The junior goalie gave up two ‘soft’ goals on the weekend (the first goal on Friday and the error on Saturday) and still stopped 86-of-91 Michigan shots.  Eric Schierhorn is good enough that he deserves a few starts here and there the rest of the way, but Robson is the clear #1, and should get some looks at the national goaltender of the year awards.

-Certainly not a great first half for the Maroon and Gold.  However, they do have some quality results in the bank going into the second half.  A win and a tie vs UMD, two ties vs Ohio State, and the win and tie vs Michigan should all look decent come Pairwise time at the end of the year.  Obviously the Gophers have some work to do to make any of that matter, and have a couple bad losses (St. Lawrence especially) clouding their resume – we’ll see what they look like coming out of the break in a few weeks.