Gophers men’s hockey dominated in 5-3 loss to Minnesota-Duluth

Senior Grant Cruikshank scored his first goal in a Gophers uniform while shorthanded on a breakaway.

Forward Sammy Walker eyes the puck during the game against the University of Minnesota Duluth on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2019 at Mariucci Arena.

Ellen Schmidt

Forward Sammy Walker eyes the puck during the game against the University of Minnesota Duluth on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2019 at Mariucci Arena.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

The No. 4 Gophers men’s hockey team got dominated by No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth Friday night in a 5-3 loss, marking their second loss this season as they now hold a 3-2 record.

“Give all credit to Duluth,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “Our battle level was at a D- minus tonight and theirs was at an A. Then, we chased the game…I’m really disappointed with our older guys because they needed to have much better tenacity in the game. [But also] to pave the way and show our young guys.”

The Bulldogs outplayed the Gophers in the first period. Blake Biondi got them on the board early, just 1:53 seconds into the game. Then just over six minutes later, Quinn Olson curled his way around the top of the right circle as he fired a shot into the lower-left corner of the net to put the Bulldogs ahead 2-0.

The Gophers could not find ways to possess in the offensive zone for the first ten minutes of the period as the Bulldogs continually shut down their rushes. It was not until halfway through the period that they recorded their first shot on goal, courtesy of junior forward Ben Meyers.

Although the Bulldogs outplayed the Gophers for much of the first period, senior forward Blake McLaughlin got tripped up by Connor Kelley after gaining the offensive zone through some nifty moves. Then, Minnesota made the most of their man advantage.

Sophomore defenseman Mike Koster, after receiving a pass from junior Bryce Brodzinski, one-timed the puck into the lower left side of the net to cut the Gophers’ deficit in half with just 1:07 remaining in the period. Koster’s goal on the power play marks his first this season as the assists went to Brodzinski (3) and McLaughlin (7).

In the second period, the Bulldogs controlled the pace of play like they did in the first. They would add two more goals in the first half of the period, one at the 17-minute mark from Owen Gallatin and the other at the 10-minute mark from Wyatt Kaiser.

With just minutes remaining in the second period, the Gophers capitalized late yet again. This time sophomore forward Mason Nevers fed sophomore counterpart defenseman Brock Faber at the point, who found freshman forward Matthew Knies in the slot.

Knies’ backhand shot found the back of the net to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 4-2. Knies’ goal marks his third this season, and Faber’s and Nevers’ third and first assists, respectively.

“I know we made it 4-2 and we had a little life, but they just are a world-class defending team,” Motzko said. “When you’re just on your heels, it’s not a fun game.”

As the third period got underway, the Bulldogs had the first answer as Casey Gilling capitalized on the two-man advantage with 12:27 seconds remaining in the game to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 5-2.

However, the shorthanded Gophers quickly had a response of their own. From the neutral zone, McLaughlin fed a nifty pass to senior Grant Cruikshank just before he crossed the blue line to send him in on a breakaway.

Cruikshank pulled the puck from his forehand to his backhand, then slipped the puck through Bulldogs goaltender Ryan Fanti’s legs to cut the Bulldogs lead to 5-3. Cruikshank’s goal marks his first in a Gophers uniform as McLaughlin (8) and junior Ryan Johnson (2) tallied the assists.

Although the Bulldogs outplayed the Gophers for much of the game, the Gophers had a solid third period, outshooting Minnesota-Duluth 11-6.

However, the total shots on goal in the game favored Minnesota-Duluth at 23-21, while they also led in faceoffs at 30-21.

“I think they just outworked us tonight,” Cruikshank said. “It was pretty simple. They are a veteran team. They’ve played in a lot of big games. They play the same way for 60 minutes. I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call for us tonight.”

Freshman forward Rhett Pitlick made his collegiate debut, while sophomore defenseman Carl Fish played in his first game this season.

The Gophers will travel to Duluth, Minn. to take on the Bulldogs (4-1) in the second game of the home-and-home series on Saturday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at Amsoil Arena.