Jan. 22nd, 2022: In a series that means a lot for both the Big Ten heavyweights, Michigan comes on top scoring four unanswered goals and earns the series split against the Gophers.
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MINNEAPOLIS, MINN – In a clash between two Big Ten heavyweights a couple of Olympians scored for the Gophers to push them past Michigan in dramatic fashion with an overtime winner by Junior captain Ben Meyers.
When the Gophers traveled to Ann Arbor for a series against the Wolverines before winter break, a total of 14 goals were scored between the two teams. A 5-1 win for the Gophers in game one and a 6-2 loss in the series finale. Gophers head coach Bob Motzko eluded this series should be a closer contest between the two.
The Gophers opened the game with an impressing first period, outshooting Michigan 9-4 but after going scoreless on three power play attempts the Gophers walked out of the first period tied up. Michigan came out flying in the second period outshooting the Gophers 16-5. Michigan added an even-strength goal by Tampa Bay Lighting prospect Dylan Duke to make it 1-0.
Trailing 1-0 in the second period the Gophers got the crowd into it with the Olympian Matthew Knies’ ninth goal of the year off a sweet dish from Chaz Lucius.
“The only thing the game was missing was the crowd. We said it in the third, once you get one goal you’re going to get two.” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said on the crowd. “The fans are watching a great game and being at home we have to reward them and I thought they were outstanding tonight.”
Junior goaltender Justen Close in his third career start turned aside 20 shots in just the first two periods and was responsible for shutting down Michigan’s electric power play unit, going 3/3 on the penalty kill. Close finished with 26 saves on the night and earned Friday night’s second star honors.
“He looks like a veteran out there,” said Motzko. “He’s played five games since Christmas now and let’s hope tonights game is a sign of good things to come for Close.”
After Jacob Truscott boarded Mason Nevers late in the third period the Gophers received a five-minute power play. In what appeared to be a Blake McLaughlin goal with 12.1 seconds remaining in the third, the refs decided to review it. After review, it was determined that the puck was kicked in by McLaughlin’s skate.
In a game with 25 total NHL Draft picks on the ice, you knew it would be a tight defensive game. The Wolverines blocked 23 shots and the Gophers blocked 15. A battle between the goaltenders needed extra time though as it remained 1-1 after the third period. Close eventually turned aside a career-high 26 out of 27.
“He’s one heck of a goalie and he’s worked his tail off to be in this position,” Knies said. “He deserves it and he’s definitely a reason we won the game.”
Continuing on the power play the Gophers were able to cash in on the 4-on-3 man advantage. Seemingly every Gopher touched the puck on the goal. Knies fed one over to Lucius who fed LaCombe on the point. A fake shot by LaCombe turned into a pass to Meyers who ended the game in dramatic fashion.
“We played a complete game tonight, and I’m sure their coach would say the same thing,” said Motzko. “That was a good hockey game.”
Erik Portillo Stops 39 Shots In The Series Finale
Almost an identical finish by the Gophers with their last series against Alaska. Failing to complete the series sweep, was a result of not being able to beat the opposition’s goaltender.
An early goal by Junior forward Bryce Brodzinski set the tone for the game. In Friday’s game, Brodzinski was playing with freshman Aaron Huglen and Tristian Broz but in Saturday’s tilt, Motzko reunited Brodzinski back with Walker and McLaughlin to provide a spark.
Turnovers by the Gophers tonight eventually gave Michigan the break they needed and Brendan Brisson picked up his 16th goal of the year. Just 50 seconds later Ben Brinkman coughs the puck up in the offensive zone and Michigan comes roaring back. Matty Beniers fed Kent Johnson who then worked his magic and found Owen Power in the high slot. The Buffalo Sabres’ first overall pick from 2021 set up the Seattle Kraken’s second overall pick in 2021 Matty Beniers who beat Close. In the span of 62 seconds, the Gophers saw their 1-0 lead turn into a 2-1 deficit.
Despite throwing everything but a microwave at the Wolverines’ goaltender, Portillo stood strong stopping 18 second period shots. A cough up by the Gophers and Michael Pastujov scored his ninth of the year on Michigan’s fourth shot of the second period making it 3-1.
The Gophers again did all they can trying to get pucks past Portillo but had nothing to show for it. Later, Sammy Walker briefly appeared to make it 3-2 in the third period, but officials immediately called no-goal, as Walker had batted the puck with his hand and he even knew it.
“We made three mistakes tonight and they scored on all of them,” said Motzko. “Our lines were all contributing and all getting chances. I don’t come into press conferences after a loss and say we were pretty good tonight. We were good tonight, except for scoring goals.”
Nick Blankenburg, the undrafted senior defender scored his tenth of the year off a rush chance and eventually ended the game 4-1. Close stopped 15 out of 19 in the loss, going 1-1-0 with a .891 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average on the weekend.
“I think Close is an unbelievable goalie and we are an unbelievable team,” said the lone Gophers goalscorer Bryce Brodzinski. “Even in practice, Close is the hardest goalie to score on. He is one of the guys we look upon. We hung him out to dry today but we take that to heart and I think we will be a lot better going forward.”
The Gophers go on the road next weekend vs the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for more Big Ten play. With Ohio State’s sweep over Michigan State, the Gophers drop to third in the Big Ten and six points out of first place. Gophers forward Jaxon Nelson will not be available for next weekend’s series nor will Rhett Pitlick. But Pitlick is tracking well and may return the following week.