Minnesota-Duluth Completes Series Sweep Over The Gophers

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University of Minnesota drops to 3-3-0 on the year following 5-3 and 2-1 losses against the Bulldogs. 

Nearly 8,000 fans packed the great Amsoil arena on Saturday night to witness University of Minnesota-Duluth complete a weekend sweep over the Gophers. Duluth has had the Gophers’ number since 2013 when the two teams left the WCHA, going 13-2-2 against the Gophers.

“It’s not a fun game when you’re playing on your heels.” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said after trying to come from behind in both games of the series against the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs. “I hate losing two games in a weekend, but we played much better (Saturday).”

“Duluth didn’t have many quality chances. We did, and I give their goaltender the nod. He was definitely the best player on the ice.” 

Bulldogs goalie Ryan Fanti turned away 28 out of the 29 shots the Gophers threw in his direction Saturday night. 

On Friday night in Minneapolis, the Bulldogs opened the game with two quick goals from Blake Biondi and Quinn Olson, eventually defeating the Gophers 5-3 in the opening game of the series. 

After failing to record a shot in the first 10 minutes, the Gophers found themselves trying to play catch up. That’s something they had to do in both games of the home and home.

After catching a break on a Connor Kelley hooking minor in the first period of Friday’s game, Mike Koster was able to put the Gophers within one. Giving them a little jump, the Gophers went into the second period on Friday night trailing by a goal. But after more costly defensive mistakes and players out of position, Owen Gallatin picked up his first collegiate goal to put the Bulldogs up 3-1.

“The play for Duluth’s third goal was atrocious on our part,” said Motzko. “Now it’s 3-1 and you’re chasing the game. We made it 4-2 and had a little life, but Duluth is just a world-class defending team.”

Following the loss on Friday night at Mariucci Arena, Motzko was upset with the way his older guys played and made that clear to the media, saying, “We get off to a start like that and we are chasing the game, and I’m very disappointed with our older guys.”

The coach added after the 5-3 loss, “We have made a lot of glaring defensive mistakes and a lot of them coming from our older guys from the very first weekend. We have played five games this year and have given up far too many easy goals. That’s something we need to get on top of.”  

It is plain and simple, the Bulldogs are an older hockey club. They have guys who have won two national championships still on their roster paving the way for the young guys like Blake Biondi, who recorded two goals and an assist in the sweep, Owen Gallatin and Wyatt Kaiser also got their first career Bulldog goals. 

For the Gophers, they have six freshmen on their roster with five of them being forwards. At the end of Friday’s game, Motzko threw his lines into a blender and went with an all freshmen line of Rhett Pitlick, Aaron Huglen and Tristan Broz to try to see how the youngsters would respond.

“This was a man’s game,” Motzko said. “They are trying to respond but almost looking back like, ‘Coach, I’ve never been in this before.’ That’s where your older guys need to step up and say, ‘This is how it’s done.’”

Despite the poor effort in the front end of the back-to-back, the Gophers played a much better game in Duluth. Yes, they still fell, 2-1, and eventually were swept, but the Gophers were the better team in the second and third periods. They controlled the play, led in shots and chances and just played a more poised game than Friday’s effort. 

There were still some positives to come out of the weekend. One is the way Jack LaFontaine played in the second game where he stopped 24 out of 26 shots and kept the Gophers in the game in the last two periods. 

Mason Nevers continues to score power-play goals and Chaz Lucius continues to display his wicked shot. Lucius recorded seven shot attempts in the two games and held an xGF/60 of 2.14. That was tops on the team in the two games.

What’s Next?

The Gophers come home next weekend to open up the first of four Big Ten matchups, starting with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Minnesota will have to continue to tighten up its defense if they want to keep the Slaggert brothers (Graham and Landon, who lit the Gophers up in Minneapolis last season) off the scoresheet. 

To avoid starting the season off with a losing record through 10 games, the Gophers players will have to remember to not leave their brains in Dinkytown and come ready to play. It will be a good test for Motzko’s Gophers and a chance for us to see if this Gophers team is capable of competing for a national championship come late March.  

“Expected Goals For” per 60 would be the average number of goals one would expect said player to record for every 60 minutes of ice time said player receives.

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