Takeaways from Gophers 3-2 Loss to Merrimack.

Ben Gotz

So far, the Gophers new year is not off to a great start.

In their first time returning to the ice in over a month, the Gophers (9-5-1, 1-0-1 Big Ten) lost to No. 18 Merrimack in the first round of their home tournament, the Mariucci Classic.

The Gophers scored first on a shot from the post from sophomore defenseman Michael Brodzinski, but then the Warriors scored three straight to take a 3-1 lead by the end of the second period. Redshirt sophomore forward Connor Reilly scored his fifth goal in the past five games to put the Gophers within one, but despite multiple late chances the Gophers could not tie the game up.

The Gophers will return to the ice tomorrow to play RIT in the tournament's consolation game. Head coach Don Lucia said sophomore forward Hudson Fasching and freshman defenseman Ryan Collins may return to the team and play in the game after losing to Russia in the World Juniors earlier today.

Here are other five takeaways from the Gophers return to Mariucci.

1. Ramus the Rock

The Gophers mustered 42 shots against Merrimack, but couldn't tie the game because they couldn't get enough to go past senior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen.

Tirronen flashed for the Warriors all night in net and turned away several dangerous chances for Minnesota.

"I think we just ran into a hot goalie coming out of the break," junior forward A.J. Michaelson said. "He made a few saves that we should’ve scored on."

One of those saves came at the end of the first period, where a rebound bounced right to the stick of sophomore forward Justin Kloos, but Rasmus made a diving glove save to keep the game tied at 1-1.

"It’s the best save I’ve ever seen," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. "I wasn’t expecting that not to be a goal."

2. Strength Beats Strength

The match-up between Minnesota and Merrimack featured two of the best special teams units in the country. Minnesota entered the night leading the nation in power play conversions while Merrimack was third in the nation in penalty kills.

The special teams match-up was won by Merrimack who didn't allow Minnesota to score with a man advantage on four attempts.

Dennehy said after the game his message to his team was to stay disciplined in their positions on the ice and make the Gophers go through them for opportunities.

"Really pack it in and make them go through some skates and sticks," Dennehy said. "Our guys had a lot of courage, they were blocking a lot of shots."

The Gophers had to shuffle new players into their power play units because of the World Juniors, but Lucia still gave credit to Merrimack's penalty kill.

"They’ve got a 90 percent kill rate for a reason," Lucia said.

3. Final Sequence

With time winding down, the Gophers had multiple face-offs in the offensive zone to try to score a game tying goal. The Gophers were able to win and gain control of the puck, they just weren't able to find a way to score.

"We won the draws, we had the good looks that we wanted but we just couldn’t get it behind them," Lucia said.

Dennehy took a timeout to see how the Gophers were going to lineup with 35 seconds remaining, said he wanted his team to play fast and not to rush. Seconds later they were rewarded with a victory.

"It was a gutsy performance by our guys," Dennehy said.

4. Mariucci Missteps 

The loss continues a trend for the Gophers in the Mariucci Classic, and one they're likely not fond of.

The loss was the team's second straight in the opener of the tournament, and the team has only won the Mariucci Classic once in the last four years.

"It’s kind of an odd stat," redshirt sophomore forward Connor Reilly said. "There’s nothing that really can explain that."

The loss to Merrimack was only the Gophers second home loss of the season.

5. "Heads High"

Despite the loss, Reilly and senior forward Seth Ambroz both spoke positively of the team's effort after the game.

"We had a good amount of shots," Ambroz said, adding the team's effort was better than in previous losses. "We were getting shots, we were getting chances, the goalie was making some saves. It’s just a matter of inches."

"I felt we played hard today, so we walk out of here with our heads high," Reilly said.