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Fast start not enough as Gophers men’s hockey falls to Michigan 4-1

Junior Bryce Brodzinski scored the lone goal for the Gophers, tying junior Ben Meyers for the most goals scored on the team at 10.
Gophers forward Bryce Brodzinski attempts to regain the puck from Michigan’s Brandan Brisson at 3M at Mariucci Arena on Friday, March 5, 2021.

Despite an early and strong start for the No. 11 Gophers men’s hockey team Saturday night, Minnesota lost 4-1 against No. 3/4 Michigan after making a few costly mistakes.

“We made three mistakes tonight. They [Michigan] scored on them,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “Portillo was awfully good. We played a heck of a game…we did a lot of good things tonight. I don’t come in here [the media room] many times after a loss and say that.”

The Gophers scored just 2:46 into the game. Senior Blake McLaughlin fed a pass to a streaking junior Bryce Brodzinski at the blue line, and then Brodzinski fired home his 10th goal of the season to give Minnesota an early 1-0 lead.

Minnesota (14-10) played fantastic for almost the entire first period after Brodzinski’s opening goal. They were winning puck battles, dumping pucks deep into the offensive zone, and just made life difficult for Michigan as they relentlessly attacked their defense.

The Gophers also played well for most of the game as they outshot Michigan 40-19, but the Wolverines converted on a few short, bad lapses by Minnesota.
“We didn’t really give them much. I felt like we were peppering them the whole time,” McLaughlin said. “Their goalie, Portillo, played unbelievable. I think we were shooting high but should’ve shot some more [pucks] low. We got a little too cute trying to press our offense.”

Michigan equalized the game when Ethan Edwards fed a back-door pass from the blue line to Brendan Brisson on the back doorstep, and Brisson buried the puck from the bottom of the right circle to tie the game at 1-1 wIth 5:21 remaining in the first period.

Then just 1:02 later, Matty Beniers capitalized for Michigan, finishing off a fast rush from nearly the same spot as Brisson’s goal to give the Wolverines a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

On Michigan’s back-to-back goals, the Gophers left junior goaltender Justen Close out to dry as he did not have much of a chance to save either of them.

As the second period got underway, the Gophers continued to pressure Michigan, but they had another bad lapse just minutes before the halfway point.

Michigan pressured in the offensive zone, the Gophers couldn’t clear it out after multiple attempts, and the Wolverines made them pay 7:00 into the period.

Thomas Bordeleau forced junior Jackson LaCombe to cough the puck up in front of Minnesota’s net. Then Michael Pastujov gathered the loose puck at a point-blank spot and buried it past Close to extend Michigan’s lead to 3-1.

After firing a shot past Close from the left faceoff circle, Nick Blankenburg added to the Wolverines’ lead to cement Michigan’s 4-1 victory with 7:38 remaining in the third period.

Minnesota played a great game Saturday, but just a few costly mistakes changed the game’s outcome, and the Gophers have now split seven of their last eight series.

“I have liked us since we came back from Christmas [break]. We’re in a good sport right now.” Motzko said of his team, who is 4-2 in 2022. “Our kids put up a fight tonight. We just needed to find a way to score a goal tonight.”

In Michigan’s victory, their goaltender Erik Portillo backstopped them as he made 39 saves with a .975 save percentage.

“I thought we were an unbelievable team,” Brodzinski said of Minnesota’s performances this weekend. “Justen Close is an unbelievable goalie. I thought we hung him out to dry a couple of times today. We take that to heart. I think we’re going to be a lot better going on.”

The Gophers will head on the road for their next series as they face Notre Dame on Friday, Jan. 28, at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 29, at 5 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena.

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