The Gophers wanted to rebound after being swept by in-state rival Duluth.
Instead, they watched a team of players too young to gamble celebrate a victory in the corner of their home ice.
That team, the U.S. Under-18 Team, defeated the Gophers in overtime Friday night 5-4 at Mariucci Arena.
After Arizona native Auston Matthews netted the game-winner, the Gophers had to watch the young skaters form a celebratory mob on their home ice.
“It was pretty frustrating, to be honest,” junior forward Ryan Reilly said. “We just haven’t been playing the way we can.”
Friday was the first time the Gophers had ever lost to the U.S. Under-18 team, taking a 4-0-1 series record into the exhibition game.
The Gophers were not playing to win the game from the start, though. Head coach Don Lucia said the team’s most important goal of the weekend was to get some different players time on the ice.
To do that, Lucia played 14 forwards and seven defensemen, and gave freshmen goaltender Nick Lehr his first collegiate start.
“First time he’s had an opportunity to play,” Lucia said of Lehr. “I thought he made a lot of good saves and did a nice job.”
Lehr faced a lot of pressure in his time in net for Minnesota, as the talent of the U-18 team was obvious.
“Really skilled, really fast team,” freshman defenseman Jack Glover said, who skated in 33 games with the program before joining the Gophers. “They used it to their advantage. It’s probably one of their biggest assets as a team and I think that they did a good job. They used their speed well tonight.”
The team’s speed allowed them to get an early jump on the Gophers, outshooting Minnesota 10-5 halfway through the first period.
The players struggled to keep control of the puck though, which allowed the Gophers to stay in the game and build a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to goals from Glover and Reilly.
“Our [fourth] line hasn’t scored in a while so I think that was a positive that I scored,” Reilly said. “I think that helps your confidence.”
The U-18 team was able to rally in the second period to tie the game up, and again in the third period after the Gophers pulled ahead again.
But the game seemed out of reach for the youngsters when senior forward Kyle Rau scored with just under four minutes remaining to give the Gophers a 4-3 lead.
To add insult to injury, the U-18 team was also called for a penalty on the play, giving the Gophers a good opportunity to ice the game away.
But team stayed resilient and just after they killed their penalty they rallied to score the tying goal. From there, a sharp shot in overtime gave them the win.
“Obviously, it was a tough game,” Glover said. “We could just never really recover from the first 10 minutes or so, which is disappointing for us cause we were going to try to use this game as a building block in the next couple weeks.”