Gophers’ defense picking up on offense

The defensemen picked up the slack offensively in last weekend’s sweep.

Minnesota defense Mike Reilly holds on to the puck Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

Elizabeth Brumley

Minnesota defense Mike Reilly holds on to the puck Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

Ben Gotz

After a slow start to the season, the Gophers’ blue line is starting to get red hot.

During the team’s first six games, the defensemen were responsible for only one goal.

Last weekend, they scored four.

Junior Mike Reilly said associate head coach Mike Guentzel reminded the team’s defensemen they had just one goal going into last weekend’s series against Notre Dame.

That goal was an empty-netter by junior defenseman Brady Skjei, who the team expects to be out until around Thanksgiving.

“I was a little surprised … you’re six games into the season,” head coach Don Lucia said. “We need them to help contribute to the offense.”

Lucia said the lack of scoring wasn’t a question of ability, and senior captain and defenseman Ben Marshall agreed.

“We know what we need to get done,” Marshall said. “We just weren’t producing.”

Lucia said he set two goals for last weekend: He wanted the defensemen more involved in the offense, and he wanted one of the freshmen to get their first goal.

Check and check.

Freshman forward Leon Bristedt scored his first collegiate goal, and the defense exited the weekend with nine points.

After starting off the season with eight assists, Mike Reilly finally got two goals of his own against Notre Dame.

“I hope it just keeps going from there,” Reilly said after the game. “We’re just going to roll with it.”

Marshall and fellow defenseman Michael Brodzinski each came up with a goal of their own in the series, and Jake Bischoff almost added a fifth goal, but it was waived off.

Brodzinski, Bischoff, Reilly and Jack Glover all tallied assists over the weekend as well, and some of their shots from the point created opportunities.

“We went back there more. We used them,” Lucia said after the team’s victory on Sunday. “We have guys that have ability back there — we just weren’t using [it] enough, and they weren’t getting enough pucks through.”

Brodzinski said the team emphasized getting defensemen to join in the offensive rush all week leading up to the games, and Reilly said the defensemen worked on shooting from the point all week as well, focusing on avoiding blocked or inaccurate shots.

In other words, back to some shooting basics. The approach worked in how the defensemen helped power the Gophers offense against Notre Dame.

“The team was clicking, making plays and working hard defensively,” Reilly said. “[We were] getting the ground game going and creating chances off of the rush.”

Now, the Gophers just have to repeat that success.

Marshall said to not expect an eight-point performance every weekend — they are defensemen, after all — but the team’s back end is capable of similar performances.

“There’s going to be times when we’re clicking and we’re feeling good,” Marshall said. “I think that’s what happened this weekend.”