Ann Arbor, MI – Goaltender Mat Robson was the best Gopher on the ice for the third game in a row, and just like the previous two contests, Friday’s matchup at Michigan resulted in a 2-2 tie.
Also for the third game in a row, the Gophers (4-6-4 Overall, 2-2-3 B1G) lost in the 3-on-3 OT, as Michigan (6-6-4, 2-3-4) scored in the extra-extra-session to earn the extra point in the Big Ten standings.
Michigan jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on what can charitably be described as a seeing-eye wrister from the point. Had the rest of the game gone differently, one may have called it a soft goal, but Robson was so good the rest of the evening that he’s earned some benefit of the doubt. The Will Lockwood tally at 6:55 of the first was the only goal of the period despite 18 total shots (10 for Michigan, 8 for Minnesota).
The Gophers stormed back in the second period. For 10 shining minutes, this team showed us the way they have the potential to play. Minnesota started tilting the ice towards the Michigan net, making crisp passes to maintain possession, not throwing the puck away in the defensive zone, and winning one-on-one puck battles to generate offensive chances. From about 5 minutes into the 2nd until about 5 minutes left in the period, Minnesota hockey played like the Minnesota hockey fans expect.
The Gophers capitalized on this quality play with two quick goals towards the middle of the period to take a 2-1 lead. Sammy Walker got the Maroon and Gold on the board first at 11:46, when Nathan Burke caused a turnover and got the puck to the front of the net. Walker jumped in on a loose puck and dug it into the net for his fourth goal of the season. Rem Pitlick scored Minnesota’s second goal less than two minutes later at 13:27, just after having missed a golden opportunity on a 2-on-1. The puck came back to Pitlick at the side of the net for a tap-in goal. Jack Sadek and Tyler Sheehy assisted on the goal to put the Gophers up by one.
…and then the team came crashing back to earth. As has been the case all season, defensive zone turnovers started to creep back into the mix, and the momentum started to shift back to the Wolverines. Michael Pastujov took advantage of one of these gaffes, intercepting the puck at the half-wall and firing a pass into the slot to a wide-open Luke Morgan, who beat Robson to tie the game at 17:06 of the second.
The third period was about hanging on for Minnesota, who leaned heavily on Robson as the possession advantage swung wholly back towards Michigan. At the end of the spate of quality play late in the second, Minnesota actually had the lead in shots on goal at 18-16. By the end of the third period, the Wolverines were outshooting the Gophers 36-23, which means that Michigan outshot the Gophers 20-5 in the final 23-or-so minutes of regulation.
Michigan skated circles around Minnesota in the third, pouring chance after chance towards Robson and trying to make the Gophers pay for their numerous turnovers. Robson stopped all 18 shots he faced in the third period to keep the game tied at 2-2 and force overtime.
Minnesota actually played a pretty solid overtime period, getting a few good looks including another overtime partial-breakaway from Rem Pitlick. Just like the last Friday tie against Ohio State, the opposing goalie (this time Strauss Mann for the Wolverines) made a great save to preserve the tie.
The teams tied after the first overtime, and Michigan scored with seconds left in the 3-on-3 overtime to gain the extra standings point in the Big Ten.
The teams face-off again Saturday at 7PM Central. It can be seen on BTN, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard on 1130AM and 103.5FM.
-Darian Romanko was a healthy scratch for Friday’s game. The senior forward had dressed for 100+ games in a row. I understand that this team needs to find more creative ways to generate offense, but sitting a 100% team first guy who always makes good decisions isn’t my idea of a good coaching move. Then again, Motzko is getting paid the big bucks to coach the squad and I’m coaching from behind this keyboard, so what do I know?
-The all-Freshman line of Burke-Walker-McManus was the best forward line on the ice Friday night. There’s a lot to be concerned about with this Gopher team, but the future looks bright. Sammy Walker in particular is exactly the type of player Minnesota needs – fast, gritty, not afraid to battle for the puck. He’ll be a star here before it’s all said and done.
-The defense… is just awful. They have a bit of offensive talent (Phillips is great, and Nanne’s clearly got some juice) but they are just so bad in the defensive zone. They turn the puck over so damn often, it’s no wonder the Gophers are getting outshot 35-20 every night. The d-corps needs to improve for this team to start digging out, because the goalies can’t steal every game for you, even if you consider Robson/Schierhorn the best 1-2 goalie tandem in the country.
-The upperclassmen forwards aren’t doing much leading. Pitlick is having a good year, but I’d like to see a lot more out of guys like Novak, Gates, Sheehy. For this team to perform, those guys need to do more.
-Where has Sampo Ranta been? He was great the first few series of the year, but has completely vanished of late. He’s got tons of skill, would like to notice him on the ice a bit more.