Walker records 100th career point as Gophers men’s hockey defeats Alaska 4-1

Freshman Tristan Broz scored his first collegiate goal in the first period to open up the scoring for Minnesota.

Defenseman Ben Brinkman searches for the puck at the 3M Arena at Mariccui on Friday, Oct. 25. The Gophers went on to lose 2-5 to the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Kamaan Richards

Defenseman Ben Brinkman searches for the puck at the 3M Arena at Mariccui on Friday, Oct. 25. The Gophers went on to lose 2-5 to the University of Minnesota Duluth.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

After a crazy week in the world of Gophers men’s hockey that saw the exit of their starting goaltender Jack LaFontaine, Covid-19 safety protocols, and two injuries, Minnesota’s depth hunkered down and took care of business against Alaska on Friday night.

“We got exactly what we knew out of Alaska. They can skate, they are well-coached, and they are going to put pressure on you,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We had a good first period, real good third period, and we took the second period off.”

Behind a 14-save performance from junior goaltender Justen Close in his first-career start between the pipes, the No. 8 Gophers (13-8) defeated the Nanooks 4-1. The win over Alaska marks Minnesota’s first three-game winning streak this season.

“It was different, obviously not having Jack [LaFontaine] back there, but we all trust Closer [Close],” senior Ben Brinkman said. “We’re all excited for him, and he’s a great goalie. As you saw tonight, he made some good saves for us…we all have complete faith in him.”

Senior Blake McLaughlin pulled off a highlight-reel goal to extend Minnesota’s lead in the third period. He entered Alaska’s zone, brought the puck backward, then pulled off a forehand-backhand move to beat a Nanooks defender and rip a shot into the back of the net to give the Gophers a 3-1 lead 5:15 into the period.

But the goal did more than just help Minnesota to victory. Senior co-captain Sammy Walker recorded a secondary assist on the goal to earn his 100th career point (42 goals, 58 assists in 126 games) in a Gophers uniform. He is the 85th member of the program’s 100-point club.

Motzko has said his freshmen have been coming along week-by-week, all at different paces all season long.

And Friday was freshman Tristan Broz’s night.

The Bloomington, Minn. native scored his first collegiate goal for the Gophers after finding the back of the net on a sharp angle shot from the bottom of the right circle off a rebound to open up the game and give Minnesota a 1-0 lead with 6:07 remaining in the first period.

“It was a nice feeling,” Broz said. “Just to get that first one out of the way, especially it’s taken me a little bit of time, so it was a nice monkey off the back.”

Then, Broz’s freshmen counterpart in Matthew Knies scored his eighth goal this season to extend Minnesota’s lead to 2-0 with just over a minute to play in the first after ripping a shot from the slot into the back of the net off a beautiful feed from junior co-captain Ben Meyers.

The second period was slow for the Gophers. They went to their third penalty kill of the game with 7:58 remaining, and the Nanooks made Minnesota pay for it as Payton Matsui potted in a rebound to cut the Gophers’ lead to 2-1 after the puck fell out of Close’s glove on the initial shot.

Outside of McLaughlin’s highlight-reel goal in the third period, junior Jackson LaCombe cemented Minnesota’s 4-1 victory as he sprung the puck from the Gophers’ slot down the ice into Alaska’s empty net with 4:34 remaining to score his first goal this season shorthanded.

“We got to enjoy it,” Broz said on the win. “Then, [we] get back to resetting and realizing that it’s a new game tomorrow. They’re going to come out and be fired up to play us again.”

With sophomore defenseman Brock Faber out of the lineup, Brinkman tied his career-high point total in a single game Friday as he recorded three assists.

“I was just getting pucks up to our forwards, and they were making great plays,” Brinkman said. “Blake’s goal was unbelievable.”

The Gophers will look to extend their three-game winning streak to four as they look to sweep Alaska on Saturday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci.