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Gophers men’s hockey completes comeback in 2-1 overtime victory over Michigan

Junior co-captain Ben Meyers scored the game-winning goal for the Gophers 1:09 into overtime. He leads Minnesota with 10 goals this season.
Image by Audrey Rauth
Gophers forward Ben Meyers approaches Penn State’s goal during the final period at the 3M Arena at Mariucci on Thursday, Nov. 19.

Leading into Friday night’s game, and this weekend, Gophers head coach Bob Motzko wanted his team to ‘settle down.’ No. 11 Minnesota did just that as they battled for over 60 minutes to complete a comeback against No. 3/4 Michigan en route to a 2-1 overtime victory.

“We played a complete game tonight,” Motzko said. “I give our guys an enormous amount of credit. Physical, they had to be. We got back into lanes. We didn’t make things easy for them, and that’s one thing you have to do against them because they’re so dangerous.”

The Gophers (14-9) played arguably one of their best games this season. Minnesota was doing all the right things to win the game – blocking shots, relentless attack, stingy defense, and strong goaltending.

In his third career start between the pipes, junior Justen Close backstopped Minnesota after making a career-high 26 saves with a .963 save percentage and a handful of huge saves.

“He was incredible, some of the saves he made,” junior co-captain Ben Meyers said. “They got a talented team, so to hold them to one goal is just a great job for him.”

Late in the third, Michigan’s Jacob Truscott received a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind with 2:09 remaining. Then with 12.1 remaining in the game, the referees disallowed a Gophers’ goal after senior Blake McLaughin kicked in the puck, and the game went to overtime.

“We had to stay composed. That wasn’t the outcome we wanted on that call,” freshman Matthew Knies said. “We put our heads down and went back to work. Simplified our game.”

Meyers later cemented the win for Minnesota on the power play just 1:09 into overtime on a tic-tac-toe play.

Freshman Chaz Lucius passed the puck to junior Jackson LaCombe at the top of the slot. Then, Lacombe faked a slapshot and fed a no-look pass to Meyers, who buried the puck into the net off a one-timer from the right faceoff circle to score his team-leading 10th goal this season.

“They’re both [Lucius and Meyers] are incredible players,” Knies said. “I’m really fortunate to play with them…to play alongside those two, it’s definitely helped me.”
Meyers’ power play tally marks the end of a scoreless drought on the man advantage. Previously, the Gophers did not convert their last 17 power plays. Their game against Michigan State on Saturday, Jan. 8, was the last time they recorded a power play goal.

The overtime win comes crucial for Minnesota as they earn an extra point in the Big Ten standings to reach 27. They trail Michigan by three points, with game two set for Saturday night.

Minnesota played strong throughout the majority of the game. In the first period, although their power play went 0/3 in the first period, they were winning puck battles, making it difficult for Michigan to get any offensive zone time and forcing the Wolverines to make mistakes.

The Gophers were also blocking shots and minimized high-quality scoring chances for the Wolverines. Minnesota killed a power play and held Michigan’s star-studded offensive group to just four shots in the period as it took them 6:33 to record their first shot on goal.

The second period of play was full of back-and-forth action as the goalie battle continued. Both teams found opportunities throughout the first 10 minutes, but they were all shut down by Close or Erik Portillo for Michigan.

With 7:36 remaining in the second, Michigan struck first as Dylan Duke ripped home a point-blank shot in front of Minnesota’s net off a rebound to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.

Outside of Duke’s tally, the Gophers had another strong period. They had a power play that they did not convert late in the second, but they had a few more quality looks, highlighted by a point-blank chance from Knies.

But Knies was not satisfied. Just 4:43 into the third period, the 6-foot-3-inch forward buried a one-time pass from Lucius on a sharp angle from nearly the goal line to tie the game at 1-1. The equalizer marked sophomore Carl Fish’s first point this season as he recorded the secondary assist on the play.

Against a lethal Michigan offensive attack, the Gophers penalty kill reached perfection as they killed all three of the Wolverines’ power plays.

“Both teams seemed to have their systems dialed in,” Meyers said. “Expect the same [Saturday night].”

The Gophers will host Michigan for game two on Saturday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

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