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Power plays a big factor in Gopher men’s hockey’s weekend so far

Minnesota narrowly defeated Michigan 4-3 on Friday night in Ann Arbor.
Image by Daye Stager
Minnesota Gophers (from left to right) Cal Thomas, Sam Rinzel, Ryan Chesley, and Charlie Strobel gather around Coach Bob Motzko to discuss strategy during a timeout. The No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers would go on to beat the No. 1 Minnesota Gophers 5-2 on Thursday, October 26th.

The Gophers came back from a two-goal deficit to defeat the No. 8 Michigan Wolverines 4-3 in Ann Arbor on Friday night. 

Prior to last night, Minnesota last played Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game last season, where the Wolverines claimed their second consecutive league title by a score of 4-3.

Both teams came into the matchup after being swept by the Wisconsin Badgers in their most recent Big Ten series.

The Gophers’ series against Michigan is their fourth consecutive series facing a ranked opponent. 

A tale of power plays and penalty kills

After facing Minnesota-Duluth’s power play last weekend — the second-best in the NCAA by power-play goals scored — the Gophers moved on to play against the best power play in the Big Ten, Michigan.

Michigan leads the NCAA in power-play percentage with a success rate of 39.6% and has scored 19 power-play goals in 11 games. 

Before the first game against Michigan, head coach Bob Motzko said remaining disciplined and not taking penalties has been a staple for the team.

The Gophers took four penalties in their match against Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 4, resulting in two power-play goals for Duluth and a 3-3 tie. 

“The penalties have cost us — what I really think — two of our losses,” Motzko said before Friday night’s game. “That can be corrected.”

On the other hand, Michigan has struggled with penalties. In their 2-1 loss to Wisconsin last Saturday, the Wolverines gave the Badgers six power play opportunities, two of which they scored on.

The Wolverines have had a 73.9% success rate on the penalty kill this season.

Last night, Michigan took two penalties, including a five-minute major, and killed both.

Ellie Richard, a sports reporter for the Michigan Daily, said penalties have been a persistent issue for the Wolverines.

“This isn’t new for Michigan hockey, they’ve dealt with this before,” Richard said. 

The Wolverines are on par with last year in terms of penalties per game. They averaged 5.7 penalties per game last season and currently average 5.4 penalties per game.

So far this season, Minnesota has a 16% power-play success rate and scored one power-play goal in eight attempts against Duluth last weekend. 

Playing a complete game and series

The Gophers have not swept a team in a series since their first regular season matchup against St. Thomas in mid-October.

Before the game against Michigan, Motzko said the team was looking to improve on playing well in both games of the series, not just one.

“We’ve been really good one night a week so far,” Motzko said.

Minnesota was outshot significantly by Michigan on Friday night but still managed to come away with the win. 

Anna Miller, another sports reporter for the Michigan Daily, said the Wolverines have also struggled in playing a full 60-minute game.

“There’s just been that inability to close out games,” Miller said. “Both of the Wisconsin games were decided in the last five minutes of the third [period].”

This weakness showed last night, as the Gophers managed to come back from being down 3-1 in the second period.

Gophers forward Jimmy Clark scored with just 1.5 seconds remaining in the second period to bring his team within one goal heading into the third period. Clark scored again at the midway point in the third to tie the game at 3-3.

A late goal third period goal from sophomore Brody Lamb put the Gophers on top 4-3.

Similarly, late goals from Wisconsin helped put them over Michigan in last weekend’s series.

Wisconsin forward Simon Tassy scored to tie the game against the Wolverines on Nov. 3 with less than five minutes remaining in the third period. Then, forward Owen Lindmark scored to give the Badgers a 5-4 lead less than 30 seconds later. 

The following game, Badgers forward Mathieu De St. Phalle scored with six seconds remaining in the third period to win the game 2-1. 

When the Gophers played the Badgers on Oct. 27, a late third-period goal from Tassy helped propel Wisconsin to a 3-2 win over Minnesota.

The Gophers look to close out the series with a sweep Saturday night.

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