It’s been nearly a month since the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s hockey team played a game, but the second half of the season kicked off with some in-state action in the Mariucci Classic semifinal against Bemidji State.
Minnesota used a late third-period goal from forward Blake McLaughlin to take the lead for the first time in the game and eventually the semifinal victory 5-2. Forwards Scott Reedy and Sammy Walker later scored empty-net goals for the fourth and fifth goals, respectively, to put the game away for Minnesota.
“That’s college hockey right now, you’re going to go into third periods tied, one goal,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “The way Bemidji was defending, we needed somebody to make a play.”
Despite being outshot 29-17, the Gophers pulled away late in the contest thanks to McLaughlin’s game-breaking goal. His patience made the goal happen, where he waited for the right screen and a good lane to throw the puck to the net.
“[I] kind of just waited for a lane to open up and get a shot off,” McLaughlin said. “It was a good bounce back for me.”
The Gophers began the game and maintained a shot deficit through the early goings but kept up with keeping the game tied for a majority of the contest. Bemidji State took a 1-0 lead in the first period and the Gophers tied it up shortly thereafter.
In the second period, Minnesota responded to a short-handed breakaway goal for Bemidji State with a 3-on-2, one-timer goal from Garret Wait to tie the game once again. The Gophers struggled to generate offense all night, despite having possession for long stretches of the game.
“We dominated the time on attack there, but you look at the scoreboard and we only have six [or] seven shots,” Reedy said. “That was something we just had to bounce off our brains and just know that the chances are coming.”
One thing that led to Minnesota’s disadvantage in shots was Bemidji State’s blocking ability as well as the Gophers just missing the net with shots. The two teams stayed roughly even in shots attempted through the game, but Minnesota had fewer official shots because of 11 blocked shots and 12 shots that missed the net.
Minnesota’s offense was at a slight disadvantage in terms of personnel at the start of the game, too. The Gophers were without Sampo Ranta, arguably the team’s most explosive forward so far this season. Ranta is currently playing for his native Finland in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Forward Ben Meyers stepped up in Ranta’s absence on Saturday. He was noticeable all over the ice, especially when it came to generating offense. He joined Ranta’s usual line partner, Brannon McManus and Wait slotted into the left wing.
“I think it’s huge when we’re winning draws and battles, because you have the puck,” Meyers said. “If you lose a battle, you’re not going to get the puck back the rest of the shift. It’s really important to win battles when you have the chance.”
Meyers commanded the pace whenever he was on the ice, and it showed in the second period as he factored in on a pristine pass to Wait for the 3-on-2, one-timer goal to tie the game for the second time.
In other notes for the game, Motzko earned his 300th career victory as a college head coach. Coincidentally, Minnesota faces Motzko’s former team for the first time since he took over in the tournament championship game on Sunday.
“When you coach players, you really do have a love for them,” Motzko said. “[St. Cloud State] just put a walloping on [Minnesota State on Saturday.] They were outstanding. We’ve got a big test again [on Sunday.]”