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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers fall 5-4 to Michigan in overtime after slow start to split series

The Gophers comeback came up short after a slow start and Jimmy Snuggerud’s early departure

Matt Krohn

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team wasn’t in uncharted waters when freshman Jimmy Snuggerud was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head of Michigan Wolverines defenseman Jacob Truscott with five seconds left in the second period.

Gophers head coach Bob Motzko adjusts line combinations in practice in case an event like this happens, according to Bryce Brodzinski. In fact, they’ve already dealt with this earlier in the season when Rhett Pitlick was slapped with a 10-minute misconduct and Logan Cooley — who also received a one-game suspension — was in the box for five minutes in another game.

“He’s one of the top scorers in the country, and he goes down,” Motzko said. “Other guys had to step up, that’s the one thing, we have other players that can do it. We were chasing the game.”

So even with the absence of Snuggerud, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, the Gophers came through once again late in the game to force overtime in their 5-4 loss to the Michigan Wolverines to split the series in front of an announced 10,455 fans inside 3M Arena At Mariucci. This weekend’s series that saw 20,755 fans is the highest attended series in arena history.

“We were all scrambled up with Snuggerud out there, and the right guy got the puck there,” Motzko said. “We needed that. It was just all hands on deck down the stretch there after killing those penalties. Our lines were discombobulated, and we found a way to make a play.”

Jackson LaCombe sent the puck down the ice to Cooley, who not only hustled enough for the icing to be waived off, but he went around the net and sent a backhanded pass to a wide open Brodzinski in front — and he made no mistake with 2:47 left on the clock. Mason Nevers mentioned postgame how getting the puck on Brodzinski’s tape for a high-danger scoring chance almost always leads to success because he rarely misses them.

“It felt good to get that goal and kind of get off the schneid there a little bit,” Brodzinski said of his scoring drought. “But, I mean, nothing’s really changed, it’s just sort of trying to stick to the basics. I kind of struggled earlier in the year, too. My whole thing was to stick with it and things will hopefully come, and luckily today they did.”

The Gophers forced overtime for a third time in the past four games with a late tying goal.

“It’s just kind of having that little edge, especially at the end of games,” Brodzinski said. “A little bit of desperation at the end of the games…we’re a skilled team, so that desperation comes pretty easy for us.”

But Brodzinski’s late tying goal wasn’t enough to complete the second come from behind win in a row like they did the night before in their 4-3 overtime win. It was almost predictable because the Gophers didn’t look like the same team from the night before and made too many costly mistakes. On Jacob Truscott’s overtime winner and second goal of the game, the Gophers didn’t cover him trailing down the left side. These uncharacteristic defensive blunders ultimately decided the contest.

Motzko didn’t sugarcoat the team’s loss, either. “Michigan deserved to win,” he said. “I give our guys credit for battling back...but we were flat to start the game tonight.” Motzko said they caught a break because the score after the first could have been 6-1.

In reality, the Gophers trailed 2-1 in a game that could have already been decided because of the poor start. Michigan’s Ethan Edwards found a loose puck in the slot and fired it top shelf and blocker side a minute and 36 seconds into the game.

“We didn’t come out as sharp as we wanted to today,” Nevers said. “I feel like that kind of bit us in the tail end of things.”

Then the poor start continued when Adam Fantilli found the back of the net at the 12:15 mark when he shot home the rebound past Justen Close from the low slot. It was Gavin Brindley who made that play happen, though, as he beat Carl Fish to the net after entering the offensive zone on a 2-on-2.

These were cases in point of the uncharacteristic errors the Gophers were making for a large portion of the game. As sound defensively as Minnesota usually is, Saturday night was an exception.

“Teams have a hard time getting chances on us, but when we create the other team’s chances, it’s just not a good look,” Motzko said. “We haven’t done that much, so I hope this can be a good lesson for us.”

After those defensive miscues was Bryce Brodzinski’s eighth goal of the season, which cut the Wolverines deficit in half. It was a perfect pass from Nevers behind the goal line to Brodzinski in the slot. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect beat Erik Portillo under the arm. The Gophers suddenly showed signs of life after Aaron Huglen’s individual effort tied the game when he drove to the net and beat Portillo glove side on the power play roughly two minutes into the second period.

“If there’s a bright spot right now out of tonight, it’s Huglen and Brodzinski to get them going again,” Motzko said. “Brodzinski is a streaky scorer, but when it starts, it doesn’t stop. You’re going to see him continue to do that.”

The Gophers took a 3-2 lead, their first lead of the night, when Brock Faber’s shot from the blue line was tipped by Nevers with traffic in front of Portillo. Fantilli eventually scored his third in the series to tie things up before Truscott scored the go-ahead goal for the 4-3 lead and eventual game winner in overtime.

Despite allowing five goals, Close put forth a decent performance when you consider the defensive breakdowns the Gophers allowed and the number of Grade-A chances he stopped.

“He bailed us out the whole game. We were giving up too many odd-man rushes, and he was kind of bailing us out,” Brodzinski said. … “I don’t think we played a really good defensive game, and there’s a lot of things to work on.”

The Big Ten Conference leading Gophers play Michigan State next weekend.