Minnesota took on the Bulldogs from Duluth this weekend in an away and home series to officially kick off the Bob Motzko era in Minnesota. Motzko joined the team in March and is appearing in his first season with the Gophers as a head coach, but the expectations are still high for the Gophers this season.
The Gophers opened the year ranked 13th in the preseason polls, as many people were not sure quite where the Gophers were at as a team after missing the NCAA tournament last season. But now after a big opening weekend, the new-look Gophers have rocketed up the rankings.
Game 1 Summary:
Game one of the series took place at Amsoil Arena in Duluth as the Bulldogs raised their second National Title banner in school history. Duluth opened the season ranked first in the preseason polls, and many believe that they have a very strong chance of repeating as National Champions.
One of the major strengths for Minnesota last season was their ability to hold leads when they struck first. In the 19 games, the Gophers scored first last season they were 14-4-1, which was considerably better than their 5-13-1 record in the 19 games that they allowed the first goal.
Finnish Freshman Sampo Ranta opened the scoring for Minnesota at 12:07 in the first period, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead halfway through the period.
Junior goaltender Mat Robson played exceptionally well throughout the entire game but came up huge securing the lead for the Gophers by making five saves in the final four minutes of the third period.
Clutch PK Unit
Last season the Gophers penalty kill unit finished third overall in the Big Ten, stopping 82 percent of their opponents tries.
Against the Bulldogs the penalty kill saved the day for Minnesota by only allowing one goal on five tries against a UMD power play that was among one of the best in the entire NCAA last season.
Mat Robson was especially good in the penalty kill stopping nine of the ten shots the Bulldogs fired his way. Robson had some help from his teammates as well, as they blocked six shots on penalty kills in the third period.
Game 2 Summary:
Game two brought the series back down to Mariucci Arena. The Gophers offense exploded with three goals in the first period; including, two goals by Sophomore forward Brannon McManus in the first 11 minutes of the game.
Special Teams Making A Difference
Last year one of the big reasons why the Gophers were never able to reach their full potential as a team was because of their inability to score on the power play. Minnesota finished dead last in the Big Ten in power play success with a miserable 15 percent success rate.
One of the significant changes that Bob Motzko wanted to bring to the Gophers was creative aggression on the power play, and his team delivered with it in game two. On the first power play attempt, the Gophers ripped three shots on net; including a beautiful goal by Tyler Sheehy that was set up by a crip pass from the top from Clayton Phillips.
.@GopherHockey is rolling at home!
They lead Minnesota Duluth 3-0 heading into the 2nd period pic.twitter.com/K1bNWhas3R
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) October 8, 2018
On the other side of the ice, the penalty kill was at it again. Holding the Bulldogs to another one for five night on the power play; including an incredible second period where they stopped four Bulldog power play opportunities, allowing no shots on goal on four of them, and even netted a short-handed goal from Rem Pitlick after Mat Robson stone walled UMD right in front of the net.
REM PITLICK!!! 😱😱😱
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) October 8, 2018
It is a minimal sample size, but if the first two games are any indication of the direction this team is going, there is a lot to be excited about. The special teams are trending in the right direction, and it will be one of the most significant determining factors in how far the Gophers go this season.
The Gophers have a lot of experience entering this season, and it showed in this series against Duluth. Of the eight goals scored in this series, five of them were scored by returning players, and a veteran was a primary assister on all three of the goals scored by Freshmen.
The veterans on this Gopher team are the tone-setters for how hard the young guys work throughout the season. As of now the energy from everyone on the ice is there. The young guys will look towards the veteran players for leadership as the season moves along.
Player Of The Series:
Mat Robson: .936 Save Percentage – 2.5 GAA – 73 Saves
Mat Robson was the clear difference maker in this series for the Gophers. In Game one Robson faced 32 shots on goal, and he was able to stop 31 of them. Robson went two shutout periods and stopped the first 22 shots he saw before allowing a power-play goal in the third period. The Junior goaltender finished game one with .968 save percentage and eventually added a tie to his record after stopping three shots in overtime.
In game two we saw more of the same from Robson as he stopped 42 of the 46 shots he faced for a .913 save percentage. Robson opened the game very strong with 19 straight saves before allowing the first goal on a power play in the second period.
Robson put the Gophers on his back this series and managed to partially “steal” a tie-in game one with his terrific play. If he continues to play like this, the Gophers will go a long way, and Robson will find himself winning some awards.
They Said It:
“It feels unbelievable. Couldn’t think of a better way to start the season, But Especially for the Seniors, it means a lot, and a lot for me.”
~Jack Ramsey on how it feels to beat UMD for the first time.
“It was an enthusiastic crowd. There was some juice in the building, and I got excited. That fed over to our players.”
~Bob Motzko on coaching his first game at the University of Minnesota
“It felt good. It’s something you dream of for a long time. Play your first game, and it was a lot of fun.”
~Sampo Ranta on his first game as Gopher
“Credit to our guys for buying into the structures and systems.”
~Mat Robson on his teammates limiting clean looks for Duluth
Next weekend the Gophers head to Plymouth, Michigan to take on the USA under 18 national team in an exhibition game. This matchup will be a decent test for the Gophers, but it will be an exhibition nonetheless.
The Gophers next competitive matchup is three weeks from now when they travel to Las Vegas to take on the University of North Dakota. North Dakota is currently ranked 13th in the nation, and it is going to be another early season test for Bob Motzko and his hockey team. The Gophers opened the season ranked 13th, but after a big weekend against Duluth are now up to sixth in the nation.