Minneapolis, MN – Former Gopher coach Doug Woog often said that ‘split on the road, sweep at home’ was a recipe for a successful season.
By that metric, the Gophers are right on track.
After an opening split at Colorado College, Minnesota (3-1-0 Overall) returned home to sweep visiting Niagara (0-2-0) last weekend, with 3-2 and 4-2 victories. Freshmen again played crucial roles in the team’s success all weekend, but it was Minnesota’s sophomores that provided most of the pop. Sammy Walker scored twice on the weekend, including the game-winning overtime goal on Friday night, and Nathan Burke scored the powerplay game-winner in the third period on Saturday to put Minnesota up for good and secure the sweep.
Friday’s game was a tight one through the first 49:37, with both teams playing solid defense and limiting offensive chances. Niagara opened up a lead with just 23 seconds remaining in the second, but the Gophers responded on the powerplay at 5:53 in the third with Sampo Ranta’s second goal of the year. Jonny Sorenson scored his first goal as a Gopher at 6:58 to give the Gophers their first lead of the night, but it was short lived as Niagara tied it just over a minute later.
Gopher captain Walker would not be denied in overtime, however. Blake McLaughlin peeled the puck off the right wing boards in the defensive zone and sprung a bursting Walker up the middle of the ice on a two-on-one. Walker’s shot beat Niagara goalie Brian Wilson blocker side at just 46 seconds of the extra session to win it for Minnesota.
Saturday night again saw Niagara jump out to a 1-0 lead, thanks to Dylan Mills’ goal just 35 seconds into the first. Just like Friday, Minnesota locked down on defense and didn’t let the Purple Eagles get a two-goal lead. Walker scored his third of the year on the powerplay at 10:20 of the second, and just over a minute later Brannon McManus scored to put the Gophers up 2-1.
Niagara again responded early in the third, with Reed Robinson tying it up just 1:04 into the final frame, but Burke scored on a five-minute major at 5:09 and Scott Reedy fired the puck into an empty net at 19:36 to seal the victory and the home sweep.
Coach Bob Motzko rotated the goalies again this weekend, with Jack LaFontaine getting the Friday start (and his first victory as a Gopher), and Jared Moe getting the start between the pipes for the rubber match on Saturday.
It took the Gophers all year to sweep a home series in 2018-2019, doing so in their final regular season series against Arizona State in early March. This year is off to a much better start.
The sweep is also important from a Pairwise ranking perspective. Last year’s Gophers were on the outside of the NCAA bubble looking in, mostly because of bad losses to teams like Sacred Heart and Ferris State. With a strong schedule in 19-20, Niagara is probably the only team that Minnesota will play that posed a chance of tanking their PWR with a loss or two. The Gophers’ other non-conference foes are UMD, North Dakota, and a Mariucci Classic lineup of Bemidji State and either SCSU or Mankato. While the Big Ten likely will not be amazing top-to-bottom, even the bottom-feeders of the conference (MSU) will be reasonable teams based on strength-of-schedule alone.
Saturday’s game saw senior captain Tyler Nanne leave the game in the second period and not return. It is unclear whether he’ll be back in the lineup this upcoming weekend, when the Gophers take on Minnesota Duluth in a home-and-home matchup.
Back-to-back reigning NCAA champs and preseason #1, Duluth is coming off a resounding road sweep at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. Minnesota is up to #20 in the polls after being unranked prior to the season.
Friday’s home matchup is at 7PM and can be seen on FSN Plus, streamed on Fox Sports Go, and heard at 1130AM. Saturday, the Gophers head up I35 to battle Duluth at AmsOil Arena, with the puck dropping again at 7PM. Saturday’s game is on Fox 9 TV, with a paid stream available at NCHC.TV and radio again at 1130AM.