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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers Open Season With a Win and a Tie over #1 UMD

That was a much more successful start to the Motzko Era than many expected

The Gophers got their season off to a great start
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Well that went better than expected. Even Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Bob Motzko was a bit skeptical that his team was ready to play the #1 team in the country in the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs this past weekend. Well, the results say they were more than ready. The #13 Gophers and Bulldogs tied 1-1 in Duluth on Saturday night before the Gophers put in a dominant performance to defeat UMD 7-3 at Mariucci Arena on Sunday night. The win was the Gophers first win over the Bulldogs in nearly four years, since October 10, 2014. With the results the Gophers moved up from #13 in the preseason poll to #6 including receiving three first place votes in the poll released Monday morning. UMD fell to #3 and still recieved eight first place votes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Gophers headed up to Duluth on Saturday night for their first game inder new head coach Bob Motzko. The Bulldogs had explicitly requested the Gophers be their opponent when they dropped their 2017-18 NCAA Championship banner on opening night at Amsoil Arena. Motzko made the best of the situation and in a decision that was questioned by some he had the Gophers come out from their locker room and sit on their bench to watch the Bulldogs championship ceremony. But in the proof that it is a new era in Gopher hockey, Motzko had a response to that ready to go.

The Gophers opened the scoring first when freshman Sampo Ranta scored his first goal in the Maroon and Gold. Ranta put a gorgeous wrist shot past UMD goalie Hunter Shepard to put the Gophers on top. Neither team scored in the second period and UMD appeared to have all the momentum in the third period when they would tie the game at one with just over 16 minutes left to play in regulation on a power-play goal. Both goalies, Shepard for UMD and Mat Robson for the Gophers made several nice saves in the rest of the third and overtime and the game would end in a tie.

The teams took the bus ride down I-35 and played in the Gophers home opener on Sunday. This one was all Minnesota right from the start. It was the Brannon McManus show int he first period as the Gopher sophomore would score two of the three Minnesota goals in the period to post the Gophers to a 3-0 lead after one.

On the first goal McManus took a nice feed from Scott Reedy and pout a shot on Sheapard only to be stopped. However, he found his own rebound and with Shepard out of position put the puck over him to get the Gophers an early 1-0 lead.

McManus’s second goal came three and a half minutes later when he got just the tip of his stick on a rocket blast from the point by sophomore defenseman Clayton Phillips that went upper corner of the net past Shepard to put the Gophers up 2-0.

After a major checking from behind penalty to UMD’s Peter Krieger, it was senior co-captain Tyler Sheehy getting his 2018 off on the right foot scoring on the power play to make it 3-0.

The Bulldogs would score back to back goals in the middle of the second period to cut the Gopher lead to 3-2, and then went back on the power-play after Minnesota’s Sam Rossini was ejected for checking from behind. Minnesota immediately regained control of the game with two quick goals. Freshman Sammy Walker would score his first goal in the maroon and gold while the teams were playing 4x4. He tipped in another Phillips shot form the point to put the Gophers up 4-2. Then just a minute later as the initial UMD penalty expired to put them on a power-play for three minutes, Rem Pitlick made an incredible unassisted shorthanded rush and got the puck past Shepard to give the Gophers a 5-2 lead.

The teams would head to the locker room with Minnesota up 5-2. IN the third both teams would have good looks and each score a pair of goals. Minnesota made it 6-2 when another freshman—Garrett Wait would find some space on the back door and put a shot past Shepard on a nice feed from McManus.

UMD cut the lead to 6-3 but Ranta would score his second goal of the season off of a nice feed from Reedy to finish the scoring for the Gophers. The Bulldogs added one more late, but that would be as close as they could get and the Gophers would hand Bob Motzko his first win as the head coach of the Gophers 7-4.

Motzko was happy with his team’s play after the game on Sunday. He said that Robson earned Sunday’s start with his play on Saturday. He proved he should probably be the Gophers #1 goaltender after a weekend where he stopped 73 of 78 UMD shots. He did note that he did get a bit lucky with his personnel, including the one ;player on the roster he actually personally recruited:

Clayton Phillips recorded four assists on the weekend and is tied for the nations lead in scoring after the first two games. Phillips came into the U at the midpoint of last year’s season after Don Lucia thought he might help spark a struggling Gopher power-play. He didn’t last season and did not play well in his adjustment to college hockey. However, Phillips looked great at times this weekend and cold be a huge boon the the Gophers d-corps this season.

Motzko was a bit amped prior to the game—so much so that he said that he and Gopher assistant Garret Raboin accidentally walked to the visitors bench pregame by habit. UMD coach Scott Sandelin had to kick him back to the right bench.

It was nearly as good a start as you could have asked from this Gophers team, and now they find themselves with two weeks to gel even further. Thanks to a very strange October schedule, the Gophers will now have two solid weeks of practice interrupted by just two exhibition games the next two weekends. Next Saturday the Gophers travel to Plymouth Michigan for an exceedingly rare road game at the United States U-18 team. The following week the Gophers will host Canadian University Trinity Western for an exhibition game at Mariucci Arena. Minnesota is next in action for a game that counts in a further weird scheduling quirk—the US Hall of Fame Game against North Dakota from Las Vegas, Nevada on October 27th.

Congrats to Bob Motzko picking up his first Gopher win, and here is to many many more!