Gophers men’s hockey dominates Wisconsin in 4-1 win

Graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine made 34 saves with a .971 save percentage in the win.

Forward Ben Meyers fights for the puck at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The Gophers defeated Niagara 3-2.

Liam Armstrong

Forward Ben Meyers fights for the puck at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The Gophers defeated Niagara 3-2.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

In the 300th all-time border battle meeting, the No. 5 Gophers men’s hockey team dominated Wisconsin on the road Saturday night en route to a 4-1 win as they improve to 6-4 this season.

“Good response by us tonight,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We had a good look about us, [a] good feel. [We had a] great start, stayed strong, [and we had] a lot of good performances tonight by a lot of players…it was a big win for us.”

After blowing a two-goal lead Friday night, the Gophers got off to an explosive offensive start in the first period, scoring three goals, which set the tone of play for the remainder of the game.

The freshmen gave the Gophers a massive boost in the first period. Matthew Knies scored the opening goal 6:12 seconds into the game after gathering a loose puck at the Badgers’ goal line and burying it after sophomore Mason Nevers tipped junior Ryan Johnson’s shot from the point off the back wall.

Just 1:57 seconds later, Aaron Huglen skated his way into the slot and attempted a back door pass to junior Jaxon Nelson, but it was blocked. Then, he gathered the loose puck and fired a low shot into the net to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead with 11:31 remaining in the first period.

To close out their strong start in the first period, junior Ben Meyers fed a pass to Knies at the goal line, where he spun around, took a shot, and Nelson was there to bury the rebound to score on the power play and give the Gophers a 3-0 lead with 5:04 remaining in the period.

“It was huge,” Motzko said of the Gophers’ fast start. “We came ready to play tonight…it was a great start. We needed it.”

There was a scary moment for the Gophers late in the first period as graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine exited the game with an apparent leg injury. However, he later returned at the start of the second period. Junior Justen Close saw his first action in net this season and made three saves while LaFontaine was out.

The Badgers’ lone goal came from Roman Ahcan on the power play 51 seconds into the second period.

Then, the Gophers responded right back 16 seconds later with a goal of their own. Senior Sammy Walker buried a cross-crease pass from his senior counterpart, Blake McLaughlin. After scoring, he flew into the right goalpost and got shaken up, but he would remain in the game.

Walker’s tally gave the Gophers a 4-1 lead and caused Wisconsin to switch their goaltenders as Jared Moe replaced Cameron Rowe.

Less than a minute later, junior Matt Staudacher made a high and massive hit on Wisconsin’s Corson Ceulemans. The referees gave him a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for the contact to the head. The league could suspend him.

In the third period, junior Jonny Sorenson got rocked at center ice and visibly was in pain, but like LaFontaine and Walker, he returned to play.

In a physical game from start to finish, the Gophers went on to hold their three-goal lead to close out the game.

“It was a really good response from yesterday,” Knies said. “I’m proud of these fellas. I think we played a hard game all 60 minutes, so [it was a] really good win. It was really unselfish by all our players and just super excited to get that one.”

LaFontaine had a strong game in net for the Gophers, making 34 saves on 35 shots faced to earn a .971 save percentage.

“He’s amazing,” Huglen said. “He had that incident in the first, but he came back and picked up right where he left off. So, we are happy to get the win for him.”

Nine Gophers tallied a point as Knies led with two (one goal, one assist). Huglen’s second goal this season, which came in the first period, ended up as the game-winning goal.
“That was huge for our confidence,” Knies said on the bounce-back win. “Obviously, we don’t want to get swept on the road. To bring this win into the week and prepare for Ohio State, I think it’s going to be huge. So, it was a really big win for our team.”

Next weekend, the Gophers will return home to take on Ohio State on Friday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 13, at 5 p.m., in their third Big Ten series this season.