Gophers lose exhibition to top prospects

It was the first time Minnesota had lost to the U.S. Under-18 team.

Sophomore forward Connor Reilly celebrates with teammate Ryan Collins after scoring a goal during the Gopher Men's Hockey game against St. Cloud State University on Saturda, Nov. 1 at the Mariucci Arena.

Liam James Doyle

Sophomore forward Connor Reilly celebrates with teammate Ryan Collins after scoring a goal during the Gopher Men’s Hockey game against St. Cloud State University on Saturda, Nov. 1 at the Mariucci Arena.

Ben Gotz

 The Gophers wanted to rebound after getting swept by in-state rival Duluth earlier this month.

Instead, they watched a team of players who are too young to gamble celebrate a victory on Minnesota’s home ice.

The away 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.

“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, as they took 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 give some different players time on the ice.

To do that, Lucia played 14 forwards and seven defensemen, and he gave freshmen goaltender Nick Lehr a start.

“[It’s the] 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 high.

“[They’re a] really skilled, really fast team,” said freshman defenseman Jack Glover, who skated in 33 games with the U-18 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 away team’s speed allowed it to get an early jump on the Gophers, as it outshot Minnesota 10-5 halfway through the first period.

The young 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 rallied in the second period to tie the game up and again in the third period after the Gophers pulled ahead.

But the game seemed out of reach for the young players when Minnesota 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.

But the U-18 team showed resilience, and just after players killed their penalty, they rallied to score the tying goal. From there, a sharp shot in overtime gave them the victory.

“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 because we were going to try to use this game as a building block in the next couple weeks.”