Gophers men’s hockey’s special teams lift them in 2-0 win over Ohio State

Graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine earned his first shutout this season after making 13 saves in the win.

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Ethan Fine

Goalie Jack LaFontaine blocks a shot from going into the goal at the Budweiser Events Center against the Minnesota State Mavericks. The Gophers lost at the Loveland Regional final, 4-0.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

The No. 6/8 Gophers men’s hockey team (7-5) got back on track Saturday night as they defeated No. 18/14 Ohio State 2-0, marking the first time they have shut out an opponent this season.

“That was a good bounce-back night for us,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “Give our guys credit. Last night stung, we needed a complete effort, and we got that from our entire lineup tonight. That is a game that we got to build on.”

Motzko made switches to the forward lines, and virtually all of them had different looks. The changes marked the first time senior Blake McLaughlin, senior Sammy Walker, and junior Bryce Brodzinski did not play on the same line. Junior Matt Staudacher also made his return to the defensive end after missing Friday night’s game as he served a one-game suspension.

However, the changes to the forward lines were something Motzko has been thinking about for some time, but Friday night’s game gave him a reason to make those changes.

“All four lines played well tonight and were contributing factors,” Motzko said. “Big goal by Sorenson for us, and [it] gave us energy. That’s something this team needs in those moments. And then, of course, a highlight goal by Knies at the end.”

With just four seconds remaining in the first period, freshman Aaron Huglen fed a no-look pass from behind the goal to the left circle. Junior Jonny Sorenson received the puck, fired a one-timer slapshot from a sharp angle, and buried it to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. The go-ahead goal marked Sorenson’s third game-winning goal of his career, his second goal this season, and Huglen’s first collegiate assist.

Saturday’s first period, where the shots favored the Gophers 6-3, differed from their dominant three-goal first-period performance in Friday’s game, outside of Sorenson’s go-ahead goal.

The Gophers went on their first penalty kill of the night earlier in the first period, with 3:29 seconds remaining after junior Jack Perbix took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone.

On the man advantage, Ohio State thought they scored the opening goal. However, the referees waved it off as Mark Cheremeta was in the crease and interfered with graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine, so the game stayed tied at 0-0.

The second period saw no goals and not many high-quality scoring opportunities from either team as the Gophers outshot Ohio State 7-4. However, Minnesota’s penalty kill units killed off another Ohio State power play after Staudacher took an interference penalty in the neutral zone.

Freshman Matthew Knies extended the Gophers’ lead to 2-0 on the power play, unassisted, 7:25 seconds into the third period.

Knies gathered the puck just inside the blue line, then slid the puck through an Ohio State defender’s legs, dazzled his way toward the net, and pulled off a forehand-backhand move to shoot the puck into the goal. The extending tally for the Gophers marks his fifth goal this season.

“I kind of fainted before and after the goal,” Knies said. “That puck just came to me, and I tried to make a play, take it to the net, and throw it on there…it was a pretty cool goal, but it was a big moment in the game.”

The Gophers got the bounce-back win, fueled by their perfect performances from their special teams. The power play went 1-1 as the penalty kill went 4-4 and killed off two penalties in the third period.

“It wins games,” Sorenson said on special teams. “That’s going to be huge for us moving forward, just taking care of business on the kill and doing our job on the power play.”

LaFontaine earned his first shutout this season after making 13 saves as the Gophers tallied 22 shots on the night.

“We needed to play like that for him tonight,” Motzko said. “We’ve hung him out to dry too many nights this year. We needed to play a complete game in front of him. We did that tonight. He’s our workhorse. We can’t do that to him.”

Next weekend, the Gophers will stay home to take on Penn State on Friday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 20, at 8 p.m., at 3M Arena at Mariucci.