‘We’ve got to solve that thing’: Gophers men’s hockey will look to eliminate one-goal losses starting with Michigan

Five of the Gophers’ seven losses so far this season have been one-goal defeats.

Members of the gopher mens hockey team help goalie Mat Robson keep the puck out of the net on Saturday, Jan. 26 2019 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Tony Saunders

Members of the gopher men’s hockey team help goalie Mat Robson keep the puck out of the net on Saturday, Jan. 26 2019 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

by Michael Lyne

Five of the No. 11/12 Gophers men’s hockey team’s (9-7) seven losses this season have been by one goal. However, they have had a tough schedule early and are the only ranked team with more than five losses.

Throughout their first eight series this season, Minnesota has played against four teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the national polls — St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame and North Dakota.

The Gophers’ matchup against Michigan will make it five and they will search to eliminate the one-goal losses narrative as they prepare to battle against No. 3/2 Michigan (12-4).

“You know what one-goal losses are? They are a disease,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “You have to cure them. A lot of times, you’ll hear people around hockey organizations or teams saying, ‘We’re close, one-goal losses.’ It’s the opposite. I think we’re turning the corner in a lot of areas to rectify [these] one-goal losses.”

The Gophers have suffered from the injury bug early this season as freshman Chaz Lucius, sophomore Mike Koster and senior Grant Cruikshank have missed games. Other players have played and battled through injuries, such as junior co-captain Ben Meyers.

Motzko was quick to say that injuries have not caused these one-goal losses, but it has hindered Minnesota from moving forward and progressing throughout the first half of the season. 

This past weekend’s North Dakota series split marked the first time the Gophers have had all their players available to play since the Friday, Oct. 22 game of the Minnesota-Duluth series.

“I believe we’re moving in the right direction,” Motzko said. “I got my faith in that group that we are going to keep going because we have pretty impressive wins in there too. We have played one tough schedule…we got to get a vaccination of that disease and we’ve got to solve that thing [one-goal losses].”

Minnesota will need to slow down the Wolverines’ star-studded offensive attack. Four of Michigan’s top players were drafted last year in the top 5 of the 2021 NHL Draft alone: Owen Power (1), Matty Beniers (2), Luke Hughes (4), and Kent Johnson (5). Mackie Samoskevich was also drafted 24th overall in the first round.

Johnson (four goals, 19 assists) and Power (three goals, 20 assists) lead Michigan with 23 points each in 16 games, while Beniers has a team-high 11 goals with 19 points. Hughes and Samoskevich add 15 and 10 points to the Wolverines’ highly-skilled 2021 first-round draft class.

Michigan holds a .317 power-play percentage, the third-best in the NCAA, and ranks first in the nation for goals scored with 68, 14 more than the Gophers.

“We just gotta stay above pucks,” junior Matt Staudacher said. “We don’t want to get in the back and forth game with them or let them get on the power play. We know that both their first and second units are full of a lot of high-end skill players that can make plays and capitalize when they have the opportunity.”

Coming off one of their best, if not their best, defensive performances this season this past Friday, the Gophers will look to continue to emulate that this weekend against Michigan. 

“It’s always huge to go into Christmas break with a couple of wins,” said Gophers’ leading goal-scorer, junior Bryce Brodzinski. “They are a really good team. We know that. They are super skilled. They are super offensive. We are going to kind of have to change our style a little bit playing against them, become more of a defensive team and try to frustrate them a little bit. It should be a really fun weekend.”