The Thanksgiving night rivalry hockey game was billed as being in Minneapolis, but at 3M Arena at Mariucci it was a sea of green as the limited number of Minnesota Golden Gophers fans streamed out as the second period ended. The North Dakota faithful enjoyed the spoils of its No. 3-ranked, one-loss team as the Fighting Hawks beat the Gophers into submission 9-3 on Thursday night.
If there were any Gophers fans left as the third period began, they continued to stream out as Minnesota gave up the eighth and ninth goals in the final period. The North Dakota fans reveled in each goal until the final horn, even giving a standing ovation as Minnesota changed goaltenders for the second time in the game.
The loss marks Minnesota’s third game in the last five allowing six-plus goals. One of the more troubling instances of this loss is the growing inconsistency from weekend to weekend for the Gophers.
Minnesota gave up 14 goals in two games against Penn State two weekends ago, then came in and took four of six points against Wisconsin the next weekend. Now, the following series is off to a poor start as the Gophers fell flat against the Fighting Hawks.
Head coach Bob Motzko changed goaltenders in the second period after starter Jack LaFontaine gave up five goals on 16 shots. Between LaFontaine and his backup, Jared Moe, Minnesota allowed three goals in the first period, four in the second and two in the third.
“It was a real bad night for us and a very good night for them,” Motzko said. “We didn’t have much of an answer for it.”
Midway through the third, after Moe had given up four of his own, Justen Close entered the net to a thunderous Bronx cheer from the North Dakota contingent for the Gophers’ third-stringer.
The game was plagued with turnovers, especially in the neutral zone and it was something that led to North Dakota dominating the possession game as well as shots on net. North Dakota’s tenacious forecheck was also a reason for the Gophers turning the puck over in their own zone.
North Dakota had 36 shots in the game, including 19 in the second period alone. That shot chart looked like this:
“In the first, we obviously had a couple of blatant turnovers that cost us a few goals,” co-captain Tyler Nanne said. “It’s just the same things over and over again that we’re talking about. Giving up a goal late in the period, selfish penalties and bad turnovers.”
Overall, Motzko said this isn’t a game the team can just throw away. He said it is something the team needs to learn from and get better with.
Forward Ben Meyers, who scored Minnesota’s first goal in the game, said the team needs an overall better effort for the series finale on Friday.
“We didn’t come ready to play nearly like we should have,” Meyers said. “It cost us, we got behind early and never got back into it. We’ve got to be ready [Friday] night right from the drop of the puck to take it to them.”