October 27th, 2023: Gophers fall 3-2 to Wisconsin capping off the Badgers sweep making it the first time Minnesota has lost three straight games since 2019.
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Minneapolis – Yesterday Minnesota played a very sluggish game. Too many times, the Gophers passed up shots to try to make a pass. Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said yesterday that the most Wisconsin’s defensemen broke a sweat was in warmups.
Tonight that switched but the result was the same, another loss. The Gophers outshot the Badgers tonight 31-21 but a costly mistake in the third period after pure domination, lead to the Gophers latest lost. It is the first time Minnesota has lost three straight games since 2019.
The last time the Gophers lost three straight games was December 6th of 2019 where they lost to Ohio State after being swept by North Dakota. That is 137 straight games without losting three in a row.
There is no question this Gopher team is talented, even after losing five very important and skilled players last year. Maybe not having Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley, Jackson LaCombe, Brock Faber, and Ryan Johnson make this team feel like they have to step up and be stars but it quite literally could be the exact opposite.
It’s hard to replace those five players, and to be quite frank it is probably impossible to replace those five. As the first month of the season comes to an end, we now all see how important they where.
But you can’t just blame five players who left as the reason why this Gopher team is 3-3-0 to start the season. They welcomed back Jaxon Nelson, Bryce Brondzinski, and Justen Close for their fifth years as graduate students to keep this ship a float while also bringing in young, skilled, and talented players like Oliver Moore and Jimmy Clark.
The leadership core that is here is a great mix of guys who have been through hard games and frozen fours but yet this team in general feels like they need to replace the production of the five players who left a season ago. Many players feel they have to be the ones to step up and have the production and points fall on them, so it seems.
“I think we’ve had some guys worried about points versus wins,” Motzko said. “You have to worry about wins and the points will come. I know its frustrating, they are young, and they look at that stuff but they will be fine. They will figure this thing out.”
Throughout the years Motzko has always said you only get three trashcan kicks a year, max. Tonight wasn’t a trashcan kick though, but it was a 2-by-4 this morning.
“With film you have to be cautious, there are some games you just have to put right in the trash,” Motzko said on the film session after Thursday’s loss. “My old feather stick and a 2-by-4, today was a 2-by-4 and I haven’t pulled that out in a long time.”
Most of thursday’s struggles came with weak plays along the boards, not pressuring the defense and making them work, but also being too cute. Being too cute is something the Gophers have tried to do way to many times this year.
“We just went in chronological order,” Motzko said on the film session. “We were at 76 clips of just losing battles and not being on top of the game they way it needs to be played. And we still had 12 minutes to go.”
Sure, it’s not the start the Gophers want. No one wants to start the season 3-3-0 but this can be a big learning lession for a young team like this. In tonight’s game the Gophers dressed 13 underclassmen.
“That’s kinda on myself,” Senior defenseman Carl Fish said. “The captains, the older guys, we’ve been here four, and some have been here for five years. Some of us have delt with loss and everything like that so it’s kinda on us to make sure their spirits are high. This weekend doesn’t define us and it doesn’t define our season going forward.”
Fish is one of two upper-classmen defensemen on this team. The other is Mike Koster who has been out with an injury since the start of the season.
There are some positives to take out of this game though as Jimmy Clark and Aaron Huglen provided the Gophers with Minnesota’s two goals of the game. Clark has been very good for the Gophers this year and has really showed off his speed night in and night out. So it was good to see him get rewarded with his first colligate goal which tied the game at 2-2 in the third period.
“Only a matter of time,” Motzko said on Clark scoring his first goal. “This kids got something and he’s just going to keep getting better. Assist last night, goal tonight, and it’s a lesson to all. You play hard and good things happen.”
The Badgers eventual game winner came after a mistake that led to Simon Tassy’s second goal of the night. Ryan Chelsey entered the zone and tried to put a move on Joe Palodichuk but was pressured by Owen Mehlenbacher. Ben Dexheimer picked up the loose puck and threw it off the glass and out for Quinn Finley who stormed into the offensive zone fired a shot off Axel Begley and Tassy banged home the rebound.
“Young guys make mistakes that we put in key roles, ” Motzko said. “I hate saying that when you coach here but we got to take this loss as a learning. This weekend, we have to grow up from and it’s got to be something we grab ahold of.”
The Gophers host Minnesota Duluth on Friday before heading to Duluth on Saturday to finish up the series. They will look for an even better effort against a tough and hungry Bulldogs team.