Gophers Open the Season With a Thrilling 6-5 Win in Overtime Against the Tommies

October 13th, 2023: Gophers win 6-5 in a back-and-forth tilt in front of packed Xcel Energy Center against the St. Thomas Tommies.

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ST. PAUL, MINN – Hockey is back as the Gophers opened their season on the road against the St. Thomas Tommies. It was the first meeting between the two since 1927. For the Gophers, it was their first regular season game of the year. The Tommies on the other hand, split in St. Cloud after winning the first game in overtime and dropping the second 1-0. 

The Gophers have had a fantastic record in their franchise history when scoring first in the season opener, 53-6-1 to be exact. Minnesota grabbed an early two goal lead after the first period but eventually watched that lead slip away after St. Thomas scored four unanswered goals in the second period. 

“Great atmosphere, I loved the crowd tonight,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said on the win. “But I have no idea who that team was playing in the second period. I wasn’t going to yell but I ended up yelling in between periods because in the first game of the year, we just got off script. We told them after the game that when we show these clips tomorrow they’re going to go like this (Bob puts both hands over his face).”

But before Minnesota threw the period away, Aaron Huglen got the Gophers on the board in the first after Connor Kurth poked a puck towards Aaron Trotter. Huglen picked up the loose puck and ripped home the Gophers first goal of the season. 

Jaxon Nelson picked up his first of the season around ten minutes later on the power play. It was the first penalty of the game when Ryan O’Neill went to the box for hooking and that’s all Minnesota needed to score their second of the night. 

Sam Rinzel, the freshman defender, got the puck to Oliver Moore who flew into the offensive zone before dropping the puck off to Nelson who riffled home the shot over the shoulder of Trotter and the Gophers finished the first period with a 2-0 lead. 

Video of the goal here:

Even though they were leading after the first period, the Gophers didn’t necessarily have the best of periods. As they made tons of sloppy zone exits and entries. But none of those costed Minnesota, until the second period. 

Minnesota caught a break with a call after Cooper Gay was rammed into Justen Close by Axel Begley. Gay was charged with goaltender interference and the Gophers went back on the power play for the second time of the night. 

But after Jimmy Snuggerud couldn’t hold the offensive zone, Lucas Wahlin and Mack Byers came rushing in on a 2-on-0. Hustling hard, Snuggerud dove to break up the 2-on-0 but Wahlin sauced a puck over Snuggerud right on the blade of Byers who scored his 24th career NCAA goal. 

Not long later, Liam Malmquist redirected a nice shot/pass from Jake Ratzlaff tying the game at two a piece. Just about six minutes later, Matthew Gleason pick pocketed Moore and passed one to Liam Malmquist who later fed one to Luke Manning who got his second of the year. 

After two periods of play the Gophers watched their 2-0 lead disappear after St. Thomas scored three unanswered goals. But three wasn’t enough as Lucas Wahlin scored 27 second into the third period after Ryan O’Neill picked up a loose puck next to Justen Close and fed Wahlin for his first of the year. 

But the Gophers didn’t go down without a fight and answered 20 seconds later after Gleason went to the box for tripping. It only took the Gophers five seconds to score as Moore won the face-off back to Rinzel who passed one to Snuggerud who ripped home his first of the night on a one-timer. 

With just two minutes gone into the second period, Brody Lamb picked off a pass from Cameron Recchi who blindly threw the puck into the slot. Lamb fired home his first of the year and tied the game at 4-4. 

The sophomore forward didn’t stop though as he notched his second of the game just four minutes later. The play started when Snuggerud forced a turnover and passed one to Moore who then spinned off Noah Prokop and backhanded one to Lamb in the slot who riffled home his sixth career goal. 

Video of the goal here:

But not long later, Lucas Wahlin scored his second of the night and tied the game again, this time at 5-5. It was the second time in three games where the Tommies have taken a top ten ranked team into overtime. 

After a couple of chances for both the Tommies and Gophers, Snuggerud skated up the ice from his own zone and flew past two Tommie defenders before ripping home his second of the night and third point, ending the game 6-5.

Video of the goal here:

Other Thoughts

Moore looks like an absolute stud. He was flying all over the ice making great plays, setting guys up, and was rewarded with three assists. Snuggerud looks like he will be fine playing without Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies as he had some instant chemistry with Lamb and Moore.

The Gophers defense looked a little shaky but so did a lot of the team. Without Mike Koster and a very young d-core, it was expected to see some growing pains but the d-core should be fine as the season goes on.

Charlie Strobel, Jimmy Clark, and John Mittelstadt had a terrific game as a line and showed they could be a real threat going forward for Motzko’s Gophers. Strobel and Mittelstadt were forcing turnovers all night and powering through guys physically, showing how dominant they can be. Clark was using his speed to create chances and was capitalizing on his line mates physicality.

“They gave us a lot of energy tonight,” Motzko said on Clark’s line. “They had some quality chances, Clark is a really solid hockey player. Those guys got pucks deep, they got to work, and let’s hope that’s a building block for those guys to take that next step.”

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