Two hours before the Minnesota Golden Gophers home opener vs. No. 1 Minnesota Duluth, a Gophers fan named Tyler was waiting with a friend in line for mini donuts and a soda. As Tyler went to grab his change and his donuts, he looked over to his friend and said, “I am so happy Gopher hockey is back in our lives.”
After the game, I don’t think Tyler is taking back his statement.
Following a 1-1 tie in the season opener at AMSOIL Arena in Duluth, the Gophers and Bulldogs met for game two of the series, bringing Tyler and thousands of other fans to 3M Arena at Mariucci for head coach Bob Motzko’s first game. The team succeeded in giving Motzko his first home win, defeating the Bulldogs 7-4. The Gophers started with three opening period goals on Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard and never looked back, defeating UMD for the first time since October 2014.
Minnesota sophomore Brannon McManus got things started for the Gophers with 7:17 left in the first period when teammate Garrett Wait creatively kept the puck in the zone. Wait passed the puck to Scott Reedy who knocked it over to McManus. After a couple stops by Shepard, McManus was able to slip one by for his first goal of the season. 3:28 later, McManus was celebrating with teammates again, this time redirecting a Clayton Phillips shot to put the Gophers up 2-0.
The scoring didn’t stop there for Motzko and Co. After Tyler Nanne with pushed into the boards by UMD’s Peter Krieger, the Gophers power play was able to add goal No. 3 on the night, this time by senior Tyler Sheehy. Sheehy started the rush for Minnesota, passing the puck to Rem Pitlick who in turn passed it to Phillips. Phillips waited for Sheehy to get back into position before firing a pass across the zone onto Sheehy’s stick where a wide-open net awaited him. Gophers goaltender Mat Robson stopped all 13 shots fired at him in the first period, giving the Gophers a comfortable cushion into the first intermission.
As the players and fans both at the arena and at home expected, the defending national champions weren’t going to go away quickly. 9:46 into the second period, Duluth got on the board on a goal by Noah Cates and five minutes later brought the game within one on a goal by Mikey Anderson. Minnesota needed a savior and Edina freshman Sammy Walker arose to the occasion. Much like the second goal of the night, goal No. 4 was a deflection, this time by Walker on a Phillips slapshot, his third primary assist of the game. 1:05 later Pitlick pushed past the entire Bulldogs team on the penalty kill and fired in a shorthanded goal by Shepard. In what felt like a blink of an eye, the Gophers were back up by three.
The scoring in the third period added insult to injury as the hockey score quickly looked like the two teams were playing over at TCF Bank Stadium. Wait and Sampo Ranta scored goals No. 6 and 7 for the Gophers while the Bulldogs added two goals of their own in the period. Robson ended with 42 saves in the win while Shepard stopped 11 for Duluth and backup goaltender Nick Deery added four. The Bulldogs outshot the Gophers 46-22.
Minnesota has two weeks of exhibition games before a battle with the University of North Dakota on Oct. 27 in Las Vegas.