Gophers men’s hockey four-game win streak snapped in Friday loss to Michigan

Every time the Gophers found the back of the net, Michigan seemed always to have an answer.

Gophers+Defenseman+Matt+Staudacher+steers+the+puck+at+3M+Arena+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+20.+The+Gophers+defeated+Michigan+State%2C+5-1.

Ethan Fine

Gophers Defenseman Matt Staudacher steers the puck at 3M Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20. The Gophers defeated Michigan State, 5-1.

Michael Lyne, Sports Reporter

The No. 3 Gophers men’s hockey team had its four-game win streak snapped in a 5-2 loss against Michigan Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The team moves to 19-6 on the season.

“We’ve got to play a full 60,” junior forward Sampo Ranta said. “That’s the thing if you want to win a hockey game, you have to be good the entire game. No matter what, we have to come back tomorrow and win. We have to answer the bell here and play a good game.”

Friday night’s loss is the first time the Gophers have lost to Michigan when both teams are ranked in the top-10 nationally since the 2000-2001 season, marking the end of a 12-game win streak.

Although it has been two weeks since the Gophers last played, they came out in the first period flying, leaving any concerns of rust out of the picture by outshooting Michigan 16-5.

The Gophers had two early looks on the power-play, but struggled on the advantage and did not convert.

Back-to-back penalties quickly after their power-play chances from junior defenseman Ben Brinkman gave Michigan some light. The Wolverines converted their second power-play of the night to open up the score just 4:32 into the game to make it 1-0.

Fighting for the puck in front of the Gophers’ goal, the puck found its way on the back door after taking a bounce off of sophomore forward Jaxon Nelson’s skate to Michigan freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau, who buried it.

“I thought we had a very good first period,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said. “A puck bounces off of Nelly’s skate and boom, we are down 1-0. We couldn’t have had a better first period.”

As the game progressed into the second period, frustration started to settle in for the Gophers. They did not record a shot on goal until a power play at the 7:31 mark of the period.

“The second period, we couldn’t have been more off of how we wanted to play,” Motzko said. “We had frustration on the bench. This is one of the things we got to learn when we get tough, tight games like this. We got to stick to it.”

On the power play, the Gophers were finally getting shots on the net. A nifty feed highlighted their third power-play from junior forward Blake McLaughlin to senior Scott Reedy, but Michigan junior goaltender Strauss Mann once again stood tall to keep the game at 1-0.

Quickly after the power-play expired at the halfway point of the second, there was a battle in front of Michigan’s net and sophomore forward Bryce Brodzinski found the loose change to equal the score at 1-1. Sophomore defenseman Ryan Johnson and sophomore forward Ben Meyers had the assists.
“The puck just ended up by my feet and I noticed a little bit of open space in-between the hash marks,” Brododzinski said. “I kicked it up to my stick, found open ice and shot it into a spot that I thought might be open considering there was a lot of chaos and the goalie was down. Luckily, it found a spot.”

Just a few minutes after the Gophers found the equalizer, Michigan came right back with a goal from freshman forward Kent Johnson to regain the lead at 2-1. A shot from the blue line found its way toward senior goaltender Jack LaFontaine. The Gophers could not find the loose puck before Johnson eventually buried it five-hole.

With 4:24 remaining in the second period, LaFontaine made a huge save on a cross-ice one-timer from Michigan freshman forward Matty Beniers to keep the game at 2-1.

Mann decided to match LaFontaine’s big save with one of his own, robbing Nelson on a cross-crease pass from senior forward Cullen Munson.

Michigan extended its lead to 3-1 with just 58 seconds remaining in the second period. Junior defenseman Jack Summers received a cross-ice pass from Beniers at the faceoff circle, where he made no mistake one-timing it into the back of the net.

In the third period, the Gophers looked much like the Gophers from the first period. They were pressing and finding chances.

After a shift of unrelenting pressure by the Gophers third line in Munson, Meyers and Nelson, they were able to make a line change, keep possession in the offensive zone and play against a tired line of Michigan skaters. With persistence, Ranta dazzled his way to the faceoff dot, stopped and fired a quick shot to beat Mann to cut Michigan’s lead in half at 3-2. Freshman defenseman Brock Faber and Reedy had the assists.

“The line before us had a great shift down low,” Ranta said. “They worked their defenseman and they had a good line change. We got fresh bodies out there and Faber made a great play cross-ice right to my tape and I got the shot off.”

But yet again, with five minutes left in the game, just minutes after the Gophers scored, Michigan had an answer to the Gophers’ goal. Sophomore forward Nick Granowicz found a rebound after a shot from Beniers hit the goal post and buried it to extend Michigan’s lead to 4-2.

Every time the Gophers found the back of the net last night, Michigan seemed always to have an answer.
“Michigan had a bunch of players tonight that were the best on the ice,” Motzko said.

In desperation time, the Gophers pulled LaFontaine with 1:50 left in the game for an extra attacker. However, Beniers found a loose puck in the defensive zone and shot the puck down the ice to find the empty net and extend Michigan’s lead to 5-2.

The Gophers outshot Michigan 30-19, but they could not recover after a frustrating second period where they suffered two goals.

“We cannot let that frustration ever mount us at any point with us,” Motzko said. “That’s what we were disappointed with. We had a handful of guys that did not have good games today. People are going to punch back on us and we can’t ever get frustrated. We’ve to stick tight and stick together.”