Gophers sweep Niagara in men’s hockey home opener

Gophers take a 3-2 overtime win Friday and a 4-2 win in regulation Saturday to put them at 3-1-0 overall.

Julianna Landis

After splitting their opening series of the season against Colorado College, the men’s hockey team played in front of the home fans for the first time on Friday and Saturday. The result was a pair of wins against Niagara, as the Gophers topped them 3-2 on Friday and 4-2 on Saturday.

Sammy Walker scores the game-winner in overtime

In their opening game at 3M Arena at Mariucci, the Gophers had to go to overtime to get the win. 

Minnesota played a conservative game after a penalty filled series against Colorado College. Through the first two periods, the Gophers only took one penalty, but head coach Bob Motzko said the team’s lack of penalties was a result of the multiple turnovers the team allowed.

“We weren’t going to take many penalties turning the puck over. We were chasing it for two periods, and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to take penalties tonight,” Motzko said. 

Niagara was able to strike first after almost two full periods without a goal. Jack Billings scored for the Purple Eagles with less than a minute left in the second period to put them up 1-0. Minnesota had a power play opportunity early in the third to respond, as Robbie Stucker’s shot was redirected by Sampo Ranta into the net. 

With the momentum swinging their way, the Gophers were able to tally another goal just a minute and five seconds later, this time from freshman Jonny Sorenson to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. The lead didn’t last long, as Cam Cook tied it up for Niagara just a minute later, assisted by Chris Harper and Noah Delmas. After the flurry of goals, neither team was able to get another in regulation and the game went to overtime.

Walker only needed 46 seconds in the extra frame to score, taking the puck in himself from Minnesota’s defensive end. 

“It’s always good getting the win, we probably could have came out there without going to overtime, but at least we got the win,” Walker said.  

A pair of power-play goals push the Gophers to a sweep

After getting scored on just 35 seconds into the game on Saturday, Minnesota had its work cut out for them if they hoped to sweep the series against Niagara. However, a standout second period led them to a 4-2 win and a series sweep. 

Like in Friday’s game, the Gophers struggled to prevent turnovers, giving Niagara early chances against Minnesota goaltender Jared Moe.  Momentum for Niagara followed their early goal scored by Dylan Mills on just the second shot of the game. 

“It happened, there’s nothing you can do,” Motzko said of the goal. 

The second period was crucial for the Gophers, scoring two goals just over a minute apart to give them the lead over the Purple Eagles. The first goal came during a Minnesota power play from Walker with assists from Blake McLaughlin and Ryan Johnson. The second goal came just moments after the power play expired.

“If you’re going to win, the power play has to come through in big-time moments, and we had good looks too. We had a number of chances on our power play,” Motzko said. 

Brannon McManus, who scored the goal, said it was important mentally to get his first goal of the season just four games in. 

“Once you get that first one you kind of get that extra jump in your step, so definitely very fortunate to get that,” he said.

Even with the momentum shifting Minnesota’s way, Niagara was able to come back and tie the game 2-2 a minute into the third period. Minnesota’s power play had a chance to secure another goal when Niagara’s Ryan Cook was given a game misconduct for checking from behind, giving Minnesota five minutes with a player advantage. The Gophers wasted no time with the opportunity. Nathan Burke scored his first goal of the season just over a minute into the power play, assisted by McManus and Walker. 

Minnesota held their lead for the rest of the final frame, and when Niagara pulled their goalie with three minutes left in the game, it gave them the chance to top off their three goals, and Scott Reedy delivered the empty netter with 19 seconds left in the game.