Minneapolis, Minn. — After freshman center Logan Cooley shined for the Gophers in his collegiate debut in the home opener, seasoned veteran defenseman Brock Faber took the wheel in the Gopher hockey team’s 6-4 win against the Lindenwood Lions Sunday night.
When it’s early in the season and there’s freshmen getting integrated into the lineup, there’s nothing more important than leaders like Faber taking charge — especially in a back and forth game such as this one.
Among the trio of captains this season, Faber is playing a major leadership role. The 20-year-old defenseman had to be extra vocal tonight after the Gophers found themselves down 3-2 to the Lions.
“I think (Faber) was definitely the vocal leader tonight...he scored a big goal and he had a big night for us,” said defenseman Mike Koster, who had a goal and assist himself in the win.
Faber found a loose puck with nine minutes left in the second period and fired a shot from the slot that beat Lions’ goalie Matt Ladd blocker side and gave the Gophers a 4-3 lead.
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Brock Faber lights the lamp for the first time this season! pic.twitter.com/Dsrpzliabj
As for getting the first goal out of the way in the first weekend, Faber isn’t sure whether it’s a boost.
“I mean, somewhat, I don’t score much, so I don’t really know how to feel about it or what I felt like,” Faber said. “It’s just kind of one of those things, but I love scoring goals...obviously that’s not my main focus, and I’m just glad that I could help the team win.”
Faber also had two assists in his three-point performance, which included his shot from the point that was tipped by Matthew Knies (TOR). Faber, who was +3 and had two shots in the win, earned the first star of the game.
“(Faber) was vocal, he was commanding in his play,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “And he produced and that’s what leaders do.”
A solid opening weekend performance for Faber is music to the Minnesota Wild’s ears, who traded their 85-point scorer Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings this summer for Faber and a first-round pick that was used to draft Danila Yurov.
The smooth-skating defenseman is starting right where he left off from last season. Faber may be known for his defensive presence, similar to Jonas Brodin, but he’s got some offensive ability in him.
There were a lot of firsts for the Gophers in their first weekend of the season. Cooley scored twice and Ryan Chesley recorded his first collegiate point in their debut on Saturday night. On Sunday night, Connor Kurth and Brody Lamb scored their first goals, and Garrett Pinoniemi and Luke Mittlestadt both notched their first collegiate points with an assist each.
It’s exactly what the Gophers wanted to see out of their freshman in the opening weekend because that should help with the adjustment period.
“It’s great when they can kind of have that happen early, and they can build off of that,” Motzko said of the freshmen who scored their first collegiate goals.
Charlie Strobel and Owen Bartoszkiewicz made their collegiate debuts on Sunday night. Strobel looked calm and nearly scored in the first period. Bartoszkiewicz saved 27 of 31 shots on the night and won in his collegiate debut.
“It’s really cool to see all his hard work pay off,” Koster said of Bartoszkiewicz. “He made some big saves to keep us in it, too. It definitely could have been a different game if he wasn’t there.”
The Gophers will depend on the freshman, especially the forwards, to continue producing. The best part about it is that they’re just scratching the surface right now as it takes time to adjust and there’s nerves right away.
“It’s a special group for sure and obviously there’s a lot of things that we need to learn as a hockey team, but those guys will catch right up to pace,” Faber said of the Gophers’ freshmen.
The Gophers were down 3-2 in the second period after a pair of goals from the Lions, but they recovered and scored two goals to open up the third period with the lead before scoring twice more in the third period after the Lions once again tied it up.
“Well, we had to respond because all of a sudden we were down and getting outshot,” Motzko said about the team’s response. “It was self-inflicted wounds, and we needed to stop that. We needed to play a better brand of hockey. Then I really felt that the last seven or eight minutes of the second period, we turned the whole tide and got going.”
It’s crystal clear that the Gophers learned some valuable lessons, but they’ll need to adapt quickly with the pair of games against Minnesota State next weekend.
“I mean it was good for us, obviously, we struggled that game and obviously we’re not happy with how we played, but we’re happy with the outcome,” Faber said. “So it was good to be in a tight game like that, get those guys comfortable in pressure situations...”
The Gophers committed 10 penalties this weekend, which will be an area of focus because they have to be more responsible next weekend.
Faber said the weekend was a good learning experience, and Motzko liked that the older players helped lead the team to their comeback.
“That’s what I liked, when it got a little dicey, our older guys were pointing the ship in the right direction, Faber three points, Koster gets a couple,” Motzko said.