Ann Arbor, MI – It’s always nice to start a long road trip with a win.
Especially when it comes in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Behind a solid 60-minute effort, the #2 Minnesota Gophers (9-4-0 Overall, 5-2-0-0 B1G) outpaced the #3 Michigan Wolverines (9-4-0, 1-2-1-1), putting the game away with two third-period goals to take the series opener by a 5-2 score.
The story of the game at the outset was the rash of illnesses that have hit both teams. Minnesota was without starting goalie Justen Close and second-line center Aaron Huglen, while Michigan was missing all-world freshman Adam Fantilli along with a host of other impact players.
For Minnesota, it meant that Owen Bartoszkiewicz earned his first Big Ten start in as hostile an environment as you can have at Yost Ice Arena. Bartoszkiewicz was up to the task, turning aside all but two powerplay shots against him to earn the win for the Maroon and Gold.
Coach Bob Motzko has been patiently waiting for some of his players to start getting it going offensively, and tonight was Rhett Pitlick’s night to get back on the scoresheet. Like fellow winger Bryce Brodzinski did last Friday, Pitlick scored two goals for Minnesota to lead the team in scoring Thursday. Pitlick’s first goal was a snipe from the left circle over the shoulder of Michigan netminder Erik Portillo to put the Gophers up 1-0, while his second goal came at four-on-four shortly after Logan Cooley took a five-minute major for cross-checking.
The second goal was critical. With 4+ minutes of Michigan powerplay looming, Pitlick scored off a backdoor feed from former Chaska High School teammate Mike Koster to give Minnesota a brief 2-1 lead. Michigan did score on their long powerplay, but the Wolverine goal tied the game instead of giving them the lead.
Minnesota’s Jimmy Snuggerud responded after the second Michigan goal, scoring just 1:20 after the Wolverines had tied it on a rebound out front to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead, one that they would not relinquish.
Michigan took a penalty towards the end of the second period, and they took another one before the puck even dropped at the start of the third for being late coming out of their own locker room. The Gophers took advantage of the gifted two-man advantage as Logan Cooley scored his first goal since the first weekend of the year in the first minute of the final frame to give Minnesota an important two-goal cushion.
Luke Mittelstadt added another insurance goal (his first as a Gopher) at 5:39 of the third to put Minnesota up 5-2 and add to the two assists (and two penalties) he’d already earned throughout the game. It was another banner night for the D-corps, who tallied one goal and seven assists and controlled the pace of the game throughout.
Bartoszkiewicz earned his first Big Ten win in his home state, stopping 29 shots (including some great saves when the game was close). Justen Close looks more poised in net than Bartoszkiewicz has thus far, but it is great to have two solid options between the pipes.
Minnesota looks to sweep Michigan on the road Friday evening. The game is at 5PM Central time and can be seen on Big Ten Network.