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Gophers reignite their spark in 20-goal barn burner series against Sun Devils

With a 10-0 shutout Thursday night followed by a 10-2 win Friday afternoon, Minnesota got back to business after fumbling two games against Notre Dame.
Image by Shannon Doyle
Forward Nathan Burke blocks Arizona State’s Justin Robbins from reaching the puck in 3M Arena on Friday, Jan. 22. The Gophers beat Arizona State with a final score of 10-2.

After losing both games to Notre Dame at home, Gophers men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko said he hoped the wake-up call would “turn us around.” His players returned to face Arizona State and walked away with twenty goals.

Gophers dominate in 10-0 shutout Thursday

If the first game of the week was any indication, Minnesota seems to have learned its lesson after its struggles against Notre Dame last series. A four-goal first period wasn’t enough for the Gophers, and they kept the pressure until the final whistle to walk away with a 10-0 win.

The offensive side of the Gophers’ game was clearly firing on all cylinders, but holding it down defensively to prevent a Sun Devils comeback was also important to the team. Securing the shutout for goaltender Jack LaFontaine after playing poorly in front of him last weekend was something they were determined to deliver on, Scott Reedy said.

“He’s had our back all season long, and last weekend was a little bit disappointing and it’s hard letting that guy down, the way he works… It was nice and there was an emphasis on that late in the game,” Reedy said.

With 10 goals tallied, it comes as no surprise that many players had multi-point nights. Captain Sammy Walker scored the final goal of the night with assists from Reedy – who was back in the lineup for the first time after missing games due to injury – and Carl Fish. The goal was Walker’s third of the night, making him one of two players to earn hat tricks Thursday for Minnesota.

Just two minutes before Walker secured his hat trick, sophomore Ben Meyers joined the scoring party with help from Robbie Stucker and Fish to put Minnesota ahead of the Sun Devils 9-0.

Earlier in the third period, Brannon McManus followed up two back-to-back goals in the second period with one more to secure his own hat trick on the night. His third goal was assisted by Sampo Ranta, who also had the primary assist on his second goal of the night alongside Meyers. McManus’ first goal, bringing the score to 6-0, was scored on the power play after Arizona State’s Gvido Jansons penalty for cross-checking.

Walker also added another goal to the pile in the second period, and his second of the night put the Gophers ahead 5-0 just two minutes into the middle frame. The assists on his goal went to Jackson LaCombe and Reedy.

In the first period, the Gophers got to work right away, cementing a 4-0 lead over the Sun Devils before first intermission. Blake McLauglin bookended the scoring, getting Minnesota on the board within the first five minutes of play, and again finding the back of the net at the end of the period. In the interim, Walker scored his first of the night with assists from McLaughlin and Ben Brinkman, and Arizona native Nathan Burke scored his second of the season.

Minnesota drilled the Sun Devils’ crease with 52 shots on goal by the end of the night, forcing Arizona State to rotate through all three of its available goaltenders. LaFontaine stopped all 14 shots he faced in net to earn his third career shutout.

Gophers add 10 more goals Friday

Although they anticipated more of a response from the Sun Devils in their second meeting, the Gophers were still able to take advantage of their depleted roster to complete their sweep.

A relatively new Division I program, the Sun Devils play independent of any one college hockey conference, and COVID-19 has made their independent status a logistical nightmare, forcing them on long road trips around the Midwest to face off against Big Ten opponents. The pandemic has also impacted their roster as of late, with protocol requirements whittling their injury-stricken roster even further. Motzko made a point to mention those factors in his post-game presser Friday night.

“I gotta say, that’s not indicative of where Arizona State’s program is right now, I and our whole league has a lot more respect [for] what they’ve done, they were a tournament team the past couple of years,” he said. “They’re awful beat up right now with injuries and COVID … on a competitive side we caught them at the right time, because they’re wounded.”

After allowing Arizona State to score their second of the night in the final moments of the second period, Minnesota thoroughly finished the Sun Devils off in the third, scoring six unanswered goals to hit double digits for the second night in a row. Meyers was back on the scoresheet for the second night, alongside Reedy, Bryce Brodzinski and Jack Perbix, who scored two goals in the third period.

McLaughlin kicked off the third period run, orchestrating a two-on-one play with Walker, scoring while the Gophers were short handed.

In line with the coaching staff’s decision earlier in the week, back-up goaltender Jared Moe took the ice for the Gophers on Friday, splitting the weekend between him and LaFontaine. Moe faced 21 shots from the Sun Devils and Motzko said he made important saves that kept the tempo of the game from tipping into Arizona State’s favor.

Scoring in the second period was crucial for the Gophers’ success, with McLaughlin breaking the 1-1 tie made in the first to Ranta following the goal with one of his own, which would be the eventual game-winner. Fish also secured his first goal of his collegiate career with his 4-1 tally. A St. Paul native, Fish said being able to represent his high school program St. Paul Johnson was a huge moment for him.

“I know I wouldn’t be here especially if it wasn’t for the coaching staff over in St. Paul. I especially want to give a huge thanks to my head coach, Moose. He kind of helped me grow up when I was coming into high school, he wasn’t really just my coach, he was kind of like a father figure to me.” Fish said.

Minnesota will face Ohio State on the road next week, dropping the puck at 5 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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