Gophers look to finish first half of season strong at Michigan

The Gophers are 4-6-3 going into their last weekend series before a three-week break.

Freshman Sampo Ranta fights for the puck on Friday, Nov. 30 at Mariucci Arena.

Courtney Deutz

Freshman Sampo Ranta fights for the puck on Friday, Nov. 30 at Mariucci Arena.

Jack Warrick

After a couple of tie games that both ended in double overtime when Ohio State scored for an extra Big Ten point over the weekend, the Gophers finished out their six-game home stand 2-2-2.

The Gophers will now play two games at No. 15 Michigan Friday and Saturday at the hostile Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Head coach Bob Motzko said he remembers one of the times his team played there, when he was a coach at Miami of Ohio.

“I think it was 10-1, not us. And the crowd was screaming all in unison,” Motzko said. “And [Miami head coach George] Gwozdecky comes to me and he says, ‘what are they saying?’ I go, ‘it sounds like they’re saying ‘pizza’. And they were, because if they won by 10, on their ticket stub they all got a free pizza.”

Motzko doesn’t want the result to be like it was that night when he takes the Gophers there this weekend. The series is the last set of games until the team goes on a three-week holiday break. They look to end on a high note after a 4-6-3 start to the season. Minnesota will have 20 more scheduled games following the break.

“We’re ending the first half and it’s always something you want to go into the break feeling good about where we’re at,” said forward Brent Gates Jr. “Second half, we really want to make a push and no better way to start that than a couple big wins on the road before break.”

Robson saves the weekend

Gophers goaltender Mat Robson started both games over the weekend in the home series against Ohio State. He made 70 total saves, allowing four goals over the weekend. The Gophers were down early 2-0 in each game, but Robson made save after save to allow the Gophers’ skaters to get back to a 2-2 tie in each case. Robson has a 3-3-3 record this season with a 92.3 percent save percentage.

“We don’t want to always have to make him make 40-some saves, but it’s nice to know that we have that weapon where if we do have a lapse, and we give up 40-some shots, we know he’s going to give us a chance,” Gates Jr. said.

Robson has started the majority of games this season with nine, while Eric Schierhorn, who started as a freshman and sophomore, has played in five games and started four. Schierhorn won back-to-back Big Ten Goaltender of the Year awards in his first two seasons.

Two freshmen making a buzz

Sammy Walker has nine total points through 13 games this season, leading all freshman skaters on the Gophers. He is the center on a line of all freshmen, alongside Blake McLaughlin and Garrett Wait.

“He has been somebody we’re leaning on as a freshman, that through our ups and downs, there has been no downs, he has just been a streaking star heading north,” Motzko said. “That freshman line, they’re starting to believe they’re not freshmen. That’s why we’re excited about second half with that group.”

Another freshman, Sampo Ranta, was selected by his home country of Finland to be on the country’s preliminary roster for the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“It’s a great opportunity, and I would say a dream come true for me,” Ranta said. “Those guys I’ve always been looking up to, and I want to play there someday, and now the opportunity to represent my country, which is pretty cool.”

Ranta started his first collegiate season with three points in the first three games. Since the hot start, he has tallied three more since in the last 10 games.