Nov. 21, 2021: Gopher captains Sammy Walker and Jack LaFontaine lead the way in the series split over the Penn State Nittany Lions.
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MINNEAPOLIS, MINN – The Gophers Friday night woes continue following their third straight Friday night loss to open the weekend series. Coming into Friday’s game the Gophers had scored the first goal in six consecutive games. But the Freshman forward Ryan Kirwan ended the streak and sent the Gophers in catch-up mode.
A late goal by freshman sensation Matthew Knies sent the Gophers into the second period tied one apiece. Just 2:53 into the second period Penn State’s Carson Dyck went to the box for tripping. After constant pressure and great puck moving, Jaxon Nelson picked up his third goal of the year from Matthew Knies on the power play.
All in the span of about a minute Gophers’ Ryan Johnson goes to the box for crosschecking and Connor Maceachern picks up his seventh of the year.
Halfway through the second period in game one, the Gophers got another look on the man advantage after Ben Copeland went for tripping. After a couple of great looks for the Gophers on the Power play, Sammy Walker ripped one wide of Oskar Autio. What seemed like a harmless play to some, the Gophers all decided to go off for a change. The puck rattled off the boards and landed directly in front of the penalty box. Copeland put both skates on the ice as the penalty expired, skated towards the net and roofed a shot to beat LaFontaine for a breakaway goal.
But more late period magic for the Gophers as Jaxon Nelson scores again on the power play to send Minnesota to the third tied 3-3.
Two quick goals by the Nittany Lions just 58 seconds apart early in the third period was the make-or-break for the Gophers. But two penalties by Penn State gave the Gophers a golden opportunity to get back in the game down by two late.
After coming back in the first and the second period, the Gophers eventually fell short with no comeback in the third period notching their third straight Friday night loss.
“That was a disappointing loss. We handed the game away, and we’ve seen that now three Fridays in a row,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “We’re doing it in different ways. Simple backchecks and missing the net. There was enough lack of detail in our game for that to happen.”
Frustration continues for the Gophers as they watched another Friday night game slip away from them. The Gophers this year are now 2-5 on Friday nights and 5-1 on Saturday nights.
Jack LaFontaine’s 35 Saves Backstops The Gophers To A Series Split
The message was clear heading into game two. The Gophers, who stated at the start of the year, ‘we pride ourselves in avoiding sweeps’ came out in game two of the series with a much better game.
Multiple line switches for the Gophers as it almost seemed like Motzko threw his lines in a blender and stuck with them. The first line was certainly a big threat, in period one the Knies-Meyers-Lucius line carried a combined 2.42 xGF. The Gophers recorded ten first period shots and the top line had five of them.
“They were outstanding to start the game. But we have been seeing that recently, especially with the big-fella on the left (Matthew Knies) and the center Ben Meyers,” Motzko said. “Chaz has had great chances in both games and goals will come for him.”
As much as we thought the first goal would come from the top line, Sammy Walker tailed his sixth goal of the year off a great outlet pass by Jackson LaCombe behind the Gophers’ goal line.
“When LaCombe got the puck, I sprung to the far blue line,” Walker said. “We made eye contact and he made a great pass off the boards and luckily my shot went in.”
Walker’s goal came about six minutes after Jimmy Dowd Jr picked up Ben Schoen’s missed shot off the boards, as Dowd Jr just so happened to find LaFontaine out of position.
Momentum really changed for the Gophers when Penn State’s Connor Maceachern took a tripping penalty just four minutes into the third period. Many should know by now but if you give Matthew Knies the slightest of chances he’s going to make you pay. Knies’ team-leading seventh goal gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead early in the third period.
After the Gophers got caught for an icing, Motzko called timeout with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. Then off the draw, Kevin Wall the Carolina Hurricanes prospect chipped it past Ben Meyers and eventually snuck it past LaFontaine to tie the game at two.
In game one the Gophers had a crucial 5-on-3 power play late in the third period in which they fired three pucks over the net on point-blank opportunities. Failing to record a goal and take advantage of the 5-3 was evidently the final straw that led to the Gophers 5-3 loss.
In game two the Gophers took advantage of the 5-on-3 power play. Receiving just over a minute and a half on the 2-man advantage the Gophers fired multiple shots at Oskar Autio and many high danger chances, but Autio stood tall. It wasn’t until Brock Faber’s shot was tipped in by the power-play goal-scoring machine, Mason Nevers. The goal was scored one second after the 5-on-3 ended.
After a fantastic effort by Freshman Forward Matthew Knies, senior Captain Sammy Walker was able to seal the deal with an empty net goal in the final two minutes of the game.
“Last night stings, but that’s what a captain does. A captain puts it on his shoulders and responds. That’s what leadership does and Sammy was darn good tonight.” Motzko stated on the way Gophers captain Sammy Walker played tonight.
Knies, the product of Phoenix, Arizona, now has nine points in his last five games and three straight games with a goal. He now leads the team in points with 14 and is tied with Sammy Walker in goals with seven.
It was a much better effort for the Gophers in game two as they took the message from Motzko to heart. Breaking up plays, blocking shots, backchecking, and playing with pace are all examples of the Gophers detailed game.
“We just had more detail in our game, fewer turnovers, picking up sticks in front, coming back on the backcheck, and picking up their guy. I think that was the biggest thing,” said Gophers senior captain Sammy Walker.
Grant Cruikshank has been out the last three weeks but is hopeful to return for the series in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Gophers play four more games before going on winter break. November 26th and the 27th v.s. North Dakota. December 3rd and 4th against Michigan.
The Gophers rank second in the Big Ten with a record of 5-3-1. The University of Michigan are in first with a 5-3-2 record
The North Dakota Fighting Hawks are 9-4-0 on the year and currently coming off a series split against the University of Minnesota Duluth.