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The freshmen fuel Gophers men’s hockey in 4-2 comeback win over Michigan State

Freshman Rhett Pitlick scored his first collegiate goal in the second period for the Gophers.
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Image by Ethan Fine
Junior Bryce Brodzinski celebrates with senior Captain Sammy Walker in a game against the University of Notre Dame on Friday, October 29, 2021 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, Minn.

Michigan State tested Minnesota’s depth in their first game without junior co-captain Ben Meyers, sophomore Brock Faber, and freshman Matthew Knies. But the collective group of first-years for the No. 8/10 Gophers stepped up to the plate when they needed them the most Friday night.

With the Gophers trailing Michigan State 2-0 at the end of the first period, Minnesota scored four unanswered goals en route to a 4-2 victory to improve to 16-11 this season as three of them came from their freshmen.

The most important goal for the Gophers was their first of the night from freshman Rhett Pitlick, which put Minnesota right back into the game.

Pitlick skated his way through the neutral zone and made a drop pass to sophomore Mike Koster at the blue line. Then, Koster returned the favor, feeding the puck back to Pitlick in the slot, where he fired a one-timer into the bottom right corner of the net to cut Michigan State’s lead in half at 2-1 with 9:21 remaining in the second period. The goal not only helped the Gophers get back into the game, but it also marked Pitlick’s first collegiate goal.

“I think there’s a lot of emotion in that play. [My] former teammate at high school, Mike Koster, I gave him a nice pass and he gave me a nice pass back,” Pitlick said. “That’s the monkey off the back. It’s been a while, but I think it came at a good time…when you get your first goal in college, that’s a pretty cool moment.”

Just a 1:35 later, freshman Aaron Huglen equalized the game for the Gophers at 2-2 after banking the puck home off of Michigan State’s goaltender Pierce Charleson from behind the net.

Minnesota continued to build its momentum for the rest of the second period, carrying it quickly over into the third period after the middle frame saw 19 shots on goal.

Junior Bryce Brodzinski made a heads-up play from the Gophers’ defensive zone to feed an open senior Blake McLaughlin up-ice in the neutral zone. From there, the Minnesota veteran worked his way into the slot and buried a shot into the upper right corner of the net, scoring the game-winning goal 4:08 into the third period for the Gophers to give them their first lead of the night at 3-2.

Freshman Tristan Broz topped off the magnificent night for Minnesota’s first-year group as he cemented Minnesota’s 4-2 victory after scoring his third career goal 8:45 into the third period.

“Bob has been telling us, ‘it’ll be a good time to take a big step,’” Huglen said. “We’ve been watching clips. It was really fun to see Rhett get rewarded. He’s got an absolute missile of a shot, so there’s going to be more of that to come.”

But the game was not all pretty for Minnesota. After the first period, they trailed Michigan State 2-0 as the Spartans made them pay for a couple of its costly mistakes.

The first mistake came just 2:06 into the action. Junior Jack Perbix circled the offensive zone, but Michigan State’s Christian Krygier stripped the puck away from Perbix near the blue line to go on a breakaway, where he roofed a backhand shot to give the Spartans an early 1-0 lead.

And the Spartans were not yet done capitalizing on the transition. Before the halfway point of the first period, Michigan State’s Jeremy Davidson extended the Spartans’ lead.

Michigan State’s Erik Middendorf fired a back-door pass to Davidson, who made no mistake firing home the puck to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead and its largest of the night, 8:23 into the first period.

“We made two blatant mistakes that they capitalized on,” Motzko said. “They got adrenaline. You get a 2-0 lead on the road, they had a little swagger and we had to steal the swagger back.”

The Gophers are 9-1 following a loss on the season with Friday’s win after they outshot Michigan State 40-23.

The comeback victory also marks career win 350 as a head coach for Motzko.

Minnesota will host Michigan State for game two of the series on Saturday, Feb. 5, at 5 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci as they look to sweep the Spartans for the second time this season.

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