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Gophers men’s hockey at the one-third mark of Big Ten season

Minnesota is 3-3-2 in conference play after their recent series against first-place Michigan State.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Rhett Pitlick (No. 77) waits for the puck to drop on Nov. 18, 2023. The Gophers beat Notre Dame 4-1 at Mariucci Arena.

After splitting their series versus the Michigan State Spartans this past weekend, the Gophers are one-third of the way through their Big Ten season.

Minnesota has a 3-3-2 record through eight games in conference play. Eight more series, or 16 more games, remain on the Gophers’ Big Ten schedule.

Jimmy Clark, a first-year forward, helped Minnesota move from sixth to fourth place in the conference with his game-winning goal in overtime against Michigan State on Sunday.

The Gophers lost the first game of the Michigan State series in a shootout on Friday night after holding the lead on three separate occasions.

After winning the second game, head coach Bob Motzko said the series was a microcosm of Minnesota’s season.

“It was the good, bad and ugly at times,” Motzko said.

The Gophers traded goals with the Spartans all weekend. Michigan State had a total of six game-tying goals throughout the series.

Although they struggled with maintaining leads, Minnesota’s power play was successful against Michigan State, scoring four power-play goals over the weekend.

Motzko said the eight conference games the team has played have been tough. He added these games, especially games where a smaller lead needs to be protected, are learning opportunities for young players.

“They have to understand that it’s a long year and these games are hard,” Motzko said.

In their last four series, Minnesota has won one game and lost or tied in the other. The Notre Dame series was the only series involving a regulation loss.

“We’re probably the most under-the-radar team there is,” Motzko said. “We’ve only lost one game in the last month and nobody knows it, even our guys don’t know it.”

Gophers co-captain Jaxon Nelson said the team is as good as last year despite losing Logan Cooley, Brock Faber and Matthew Knies to the NHL.

“I think we’re just as good as last year’s team and I think some people overlook that,” Nelson said. “We just have to learn how to play differently than last year’s team. We’re not going to win every game in the parking lot and we have to win the games within the 60 minutes.”

Alternate captain Bryce Brodzinski said the team cannot take any nights off through one-third of the Big Ten season.

“We want to give ourselves the best chance of making the playoffs at the end of the year,” Brodzinski said.

Through all 14 conference and non-conference games, Brodzinski leads the team in scoring with eight goals and eight assists. He had five points in the series against Michigan State.

Brodzinski has been on a line with Nelson, who is second on the team in points, and Mason Nevers.

Motzko said that line, consisting of a senior and two graduates, has been helping younger players mature due to their experience.

“That line is just kind of putting the weight of our team on them,” Motzko said.

The Gophers continue their streak of playing against ranked opponents as they head into their next matchup against No. 18 Penn State. Minnesota has played a ranked opponent ever since their second series of the season.

Nelson said playing on the Gophers means facing top teams like North Dakota, Minnesota State-Mankato, Minnesota-Duluth and the Big Ten conference.

“We know we’re going to have a tough schedule, that’s why we came here,” Nelson said.

All but one team in the Big Ten, Ohio State, is ranked on U.S. College Hockey Online’s most recent national poll. However, Ohio State started the season ranked No. 13 and fluctuated in rankings, eventually falling out of the poll on Nov. 13.

After this weekend’s series against Penn State, Minnesota will travel to Columbus, Ohio to play Ohio State for their final series of 2023.

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