Third period goals from Kloos, Connor Reilly, and Bristedt ENG get three points
Minneapolis, Minn. – Comebacks have been rare for this year’s Gopher hockey program and there wasn’t much of a response when the Spartans took a lead early in the second period. However, Justin Kloos started the third period with a goal 31 seconds in and goals followed by Connor Reilly and Leon Bristedt giving Minnesota (11-10-0, 6-2-0-0) a 3-1 victory over Michigan State (5-17-0, 1-7-0-0) in front of 10,122.
The Gophers have feasted this season on early success, boasting an 8-1 record when scoring first. Conversely, the team struggles any night they forget their ‘A’ game and having gone 2-9 after giving up the first goal.
“We’ve had so many games where it’s just felt like it’s in our grasp and just kind we’ve let them go,” said Kloos. “This one was probably in their grasp and we stole one. Once we got ahead, we didn’t really give them a sniff.”
Minnesota’s only other come from behind wins this season were over UConn on January 1 and Ohio State on December 4.
“Last night things came a little bit easier, we were able to get some bounces early, but this one feels a little better,” said Kloos. “We were resilient all night, obviously we didn’t get much as far bounces the first couple periods even though we gave a pretty good effort.”
After a first period where Minnesota controlled play racking up a 14-5 shot advantage, Michigan State’s Matt DeBlouw took advantage of a flat Gopher start to the second period by walking across the slot and scoring 2:53 into the second.
The Gophers didn’t immediately respond and failed to score on two power play opportunities–pushing their scoreless streak on the man-advantage to 16.
“End of the second, the coaches came in and told us we weren’t competing hard,” said Reilly. “We saw we didn’t have much energy and I don’t think we were executing.”
Minnesota started the second period executing and finally solved All-American goalie Jake Hildebrand. Nick Seeler got the puck in deep off the opening face-off. Reilly got in on the forecheck first, moved the puck over to Tyler Sheehy behind the net, and then found Kloos in a soft spot with space. The captain’s first shot didn’t find the back of the net, but he put back a rebound for his seventh goal of the season.
The Gophers continued to push throughout third and Reilly got his first non-empty net goal of the season at 11:34. The red shirt junior has had lots of scoring chances this season, but has struggled to execute most nights. This turnaround wrist shot wasn’t his most dangerous shot of the season, but he wasn’t going to complain.
“Potulny told me that the more one on one battles you win, the harder you compete down low below the circles, the more opportunities you’re going to create,” said Reilly. “I was honestly focusing on scoring goals, I was focusing on the end result, I’m like I haven’t scored in however many games it was… felt like light years… but he told me if you focus on the little things and the process and working hard you’re going to get out of it.”
“A big thing like on the forecheck I tend to come up with my stick up in the air instead of on the ice, and Potulny said the reason that goal was created was because when I was on the forecheck my stick was on the ice and caused a turnover,’ said Reilly. ‘Then Sheehy came in, picked it up, and that started our offensive zone time—I guess it does start with one-on-one battles.”
Lucia said he felt Reilly was playing with a 5,000 lbs weight on his shoulders and hoped the goal would set free the natural goal scorer from his season long struggles. The staff has kept Reilly on the power play, where he was such a threat last season, and hope this goal gets him going.
Michigan State called a timeout with just under two minutes remaining and pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. Minnesota has struggled this season, allowing three goals against during 6-on-5 situations. However, they were able to hold on Saturday and Bristedt even added an empty netter as time expired.
“We kind of packed it in a little more,” said Kloos. “We surrounded Schiers and we didn’t let them get any really close looks like we did against Harvard and let Harvard’s best player get the puck two feet from of the net.”
Goaltender Eric Schierhorn didn’t face a huge volume of shots in either game against the Spartans, but made 17 saves Saturday night and gave his team a chance to win yet again.
“Since the second game in Michigan we’ve played some pretty good hockey,” said Kloos. “We blew one against Harvard, blew one against Penn State, but other than that I think we’ve took it to almost every team we’ve played.”
The Gophers left the arena with 18 points in Big Ten play and sitting as the first place team in the conference. They’ll travel east to Wisconsin (4-10-6) next weekend for a Friday-Saturday series as they try and keep their momentum going.