Series Recap: Gopher Hockey Sweeps Niagara in Home Debut
It was not until January 2019 last season when the Gopher hockey team recorded its first sweep. This year, they accomplished that in just the second weekend and first series on home ice, improving to 3-1 on the season.
In the Gophers home opener Friday night, Sammy Walker scored 46 seconds into overtime to give Minnesota a 3-2 victory over Niagara. Sampo Ranta and Jonny Sorenson scored the other two goals for the Gophers, both coming in the third period.
The game did not see its first goal until the final minute of the second period when Niagara found the back of the net with 23 seconds left in the period. But the Gophers answered back early in the third with two quick goals just over a minute apart from both Ranta and Sorenson. Niagara would then score about eight minutes into the final period to force overtime. Walker would then come up big with the overtime winner.
Sorenson's goal was his first with Minnesota and Jackson LaCombe earned his first points as a Gopher with two huge assists.
As for Saturday, Niagara scored in the opening minute, but the Gophers would go on to score four of the game's next five goals. A powerplay goal half way through the second period by Walker would finally put the Gophers on the board, and then only about 70 seconds later, Brannon McManus would give Minnesota the lead.
Just like the opening period, Niagara scored early in the third period to tie it up. But that would not last as Nathan Burke scored Minnesota's eventual game-winning goal just minutes later. Both Walker and McManus picked up assists on that goal giving them a team-high two points in Saturday's game. An empty netter by Scott Reedy in the final minute would seal the deal and give Minnesota the sweep.
One position that has been interesting to watch is the goalie spot. Junior transfer Jack LaFontaine got the start Friday earning his first win as a Gopher making 25 saves on 27 shots. Freshman Jared Moe got the nod on Saturday night and improved to 2-0-0 stopping 20 pucks on 22 shots. Both goalies have looked solid to start the year, and as long as both are healthy, I do not mind Bob Motzko implementing a two-goalie system for the time being.
On top of starting the season 3-1, Minnesota has now won eight of its last 10 games dating back to last season. Hopefully they can continue the winning trend when they take on the defending national champions, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs next weekend in a home-and-home series.
The Gophers are definitely starting the season with a better sense of urgency than last year and I am much more optimistic. They should be in the top 20 come next weekend against UMD!
Go Gophers! Pride on Ice!