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Minnesota Hockey: Second period penalties cost Gophers in 5-4 overtime loss to North Dakota

Rhett Pitlick’s misconduct for a stick toss was the prelude to a disaster

Brace Hemmelgarn

MINNEAPOLIS — Three minutes and 54 seconds.

That’s all it took for North Dakota to score four goals and turn the No. 1 ranked Minnesota Gophers hockey team’s 2-0 lead into a 4-2 lead for themselves.

It was an unexpected turn of events after the Gophers held their two goal lead through the first half of the game. It turns out that having the lead for the first half the game wasn’t the recipe for success this weekend. North Dakota led 1-0 Friday night until the Gophers scored with just over a minute left in the second period and eventually won 3-2 in overtime.

But no one saw it coming.

The Gophers set the tone right out of the gate and momentum followed after some big hits, a number of high-danger scoring chances and an important penalty kill five minutes into the game. Minnesota didn’t get on the scoresheet in the first with Drew DeRidder once again playing lights out. DeRidder was arguably their best player this weekend, stopping 72 of 79 shots he faced — many of them coming from Grade-A chances.

The Gophers had the upper hand in shots (15-6) and shots attempted (27-9) and were controlling possession in the first frame. With 16 seconds left in the first, North Dakota defender Tyler Kleven was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head for his hit on Brody Lamb.

The Gophers took advantage of it when Jackson LaCombe’s slap shot got behind DeRidder and Knies tapped the loose puck in for his fourth goal of the season. LaCombe played another solid game, and now leads the Gophers with seven points through the first three series after adding two assists in Saturday’s contest.

Then the Gophers took a 2-0 lead after Rhett Pitlick fired a shot from the slot, beating DeRidder blocker side with defenseman Ryan Sidorski right in front of him.

Pitlick took a page out of Trevor Zegras’ book and threw his stick into the crowd after the goal.

The freshman’s reward?

A 10-minute misconduct and a seat on the bench aside from a couple shifts in the third period. The stick toss is something head coach Bob Motzko said will be addressed Monday.

“Obviously the game is emotional and I think we all mistakes,” assistant captain Ryan Johnson said. “We all do some things that we probably regret.”

While North Dakota didn’t receive a power play, chaos and momentum in the Fighting Hawks favor followed. Less than two minutes later, Cal Thomas was assessed a minor for boarding. And then Ryan Chesley (hooking), Matthew Knies (roughing) and Logan Cooley (face mask and game misconduct) all were penalized for infractions within a three minute span.

North Dakota took advantage of the golden opportunity in front of them and got right back into the game with four goals — three coming on the power play.

The first one was scored by Jackson Blake, who was all alone on the doorstep for the tap in behind Johnson. Then Riese Gaber’s shot from the right circle deflected off Johnson’s stick and into the back of the net.

With the momentum in their favor, North Dakota kept pressing and the Gophers couldn’t get out of their own end. Mark Senden, all alone in the crease, batted the puck out of mid air to give the Fighting Hawks their first lead of the night.

A few minutes later, the Fighting Hawks scored on Cooley’s major to take a 4-2 lead when a shot from the point hit Owen Bartoszkiewicz’s shoulder and then hit subsequently went off Jackson Kunz who was standing in front.

“You can’t take penalties in those vulnerable times and the things we did after the whistles weren’t very smart tonight, and we will obviously learn from it,” Jimmy Snuggerud said.

Bartoszkiewicz, who surprisingly got the start, was pulled after the fourth goal. Motzko said the decision to start him was because they wanted to give him a shot.

North Dakota didn’t deflate the Gophers enough to secure a regulation win, though, as Minnesota rallied to tie the game for a second night in a row.

Connor Kurth scored in the final minute of the second period, which gave the Gophers life as they dominated the entire third period, limiting the Fighting Hawks to just three shots. The Gophers continued to pressure and they got rewarded.

After a shot from the point, the puck landed right next to Snuggerud, who scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season.

“We absolutely dominated for 55 minutes and then we took penalties after whistles, after whistles, and we let them back in the game,” Motzko said. “I give our guys credit, outside of that little window, our guys battled tonight and we played some good hockey. So it was unfortunate that it turned out the way it did.”

But the Gophers ultimately came up short in overtime at 3M Arena at Mariucci when North Dakota scored another goal in the dirty area.

“I thought we were really resilient throughout the game,” Snuggerud said. “Honestly, I thought we were the better team in this competition. They just got the puck toward the net, we took too many penalties and they came out with a win.”

While the Gophers got a free pass on their mistakes Friday night because it was the first game after the bye week and they were understandably a little rusty, the same can’t be said for Saturday’s night loss, which simply came down to a lack of discipline and poor decision making.

With the Gophers (4-2) first Big Ten series next weekend against Ohio State, all that matters now is that they learn from it.

“I think a lot of the discipline comes with maturity, and I think we are maturing as a group for sure,” Johnson said. “But it’s definitely one of those things that we got to learn from that.”