Gophers men’s hockey regain Big Ten lead with split

Minnesota was led by its seniors in Saturday’s 3-2 series finale victory.

Gophers forwards Justin Kloos and Tyler Sheehy fight for the puck against Wisconsin on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Mariucci Arena.

Carter Jones

Gophers forwards Justin Kloos and Tyler Sheehy fight for the puck against Wisconsin on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Cove

Minnesota’s “Captain Clutch” struck again over the weekend to help the Gophers hang onto a Big Ten conference lead.

Minnesota split the weekend series with Wisconsin with a 3-2 victory Saturday led by captain Justin Kloos’s go-ahead goal and eventual game winner late in the third period.

“Sunday’s going to be a whole lot better,” said head coach Don Lucia Saturday. “You need your big-time players to make plays, and that’s what happened on the game-winning goal.”

Minnesota’s captain, Justin Kloos proved why he is reliable by scoring when it matters. Kloos now has six game-winning goals this season, tied for the national lead.

Kloos and his linemates had been pressing all night, and it was no surprise the late-game heroics came from the senior captain.

“I was just pumped,” Kloos said. “I actually didn’t see it go in. I just heard the crowd, so I was pretty pumped, and then Rem [Pitlick] jumped on me and then Ty [Sheehy], and I was just stoked and knew we had to battle for another five minutes, and we come out with a win.”

The last minute of a game can showcase what a team can do offensively and defensively.

After a charging call to forward Darian Romanko, the No. 4 Gophers ((21-9-2, 12-4-0 Big Ten)found themselves down two men, one in the penalty box, and Wisconsin with an extra skater.

The No. 19 Badgers put their offense on display and peppered goaltender Eric Schierhorn with plenty of shots, and it took a forward for Minnesota to save the day.

“He saved me, so I had to save him,” said forward Vinni Lettieri. “It was just lucky that I just happened to be there at the right time.”

Lettieri preserved the Gophers’ lead by clearing a shot in the goal crease that trickled through Schierhorn’s pads.

Minnesota still had some struggles in the second period and allowed Wisconsin to come back and tie the game at two goals apiece.

Those second period struggles have been prevalent in each of the games Minnesota and Wisconsin have played this year, including Friday’s 3-2 loss.

“We’ve got to try to eliminate some of those mistakes,” Lucia said. “We took too many men on the ice penalty, it ended up coming back to bite us.”

The Gophers allowed three goals in the second period alone and let an early 1-0 lead slip away.

Odd man rushes were key to Wisconsin’s goals, something Minnesota wasn’t able to shore up in the second period.

The Gophers had 38 shots on goal, compared to the Badgers’ 18, but it still wasn’t enough for Minnesota to gather the win.

“[It’s] frustrating because we need those three points,” Lettieri said. “We never want to give a game up to them.”

Lettieri scored the only two goals for Minnesota Friday, his 16th and 17th of the season, but the Badgers were able to best Minnesota on the scoreboard.

Lucia said that it was a hard-fought game, and that his team had a very good effort, but just wasn’t able to put up the goal scoring to beat Wisconsin.

Schierhorn was solid both on Friday and Saturday, with most of the blemishes on his stat sheet coming from the odd man rushes.

He saved 29 of the 31 shots against him Saturday, and 15 of 18 on Friday.

“[We are a] resilient group,” Kloos said Saturday. “We’re just happy we found a way to win.”