At the final horn, the thunder of the Minnesota marching band pierced through the teams’ handshake at center ice. The Gophers won 4-2 over Niagara and celebrated their first sweep of the season with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a tune only reserved for sweeps.
It took until the final regular-season series for the Gophers to record a home weekend sweep last year, but it only took one home series in 2019. Thanks to Minnesota’s resiliency and propensity to big momentum swings, the Gophers came out on top.
Minnesota forward Garret Wait got the primary assist on the team’s second goal and talked about the momentum the team has been feeling after they score a goal.
“[The energy was the] same as it was last night when we got the two goals,” Wait said. “Whenever you get that many goals in that little [time,] momentum is swinging your way.”
The Gophers scored two goals in 1:05 on Friday — one to tie it on the power play and one to go ahead at even-strength. On Saturday, Minnesota had a nearly identical sequence with one goal on the power play and an even-strength goal 1:09 later.
Once Minnesota scores once, they have had an energy, both on the bench and in the crowd at home. The first few shifts after the Gophers score one goal, they have played a more energetic and electrifying brand of hockey, leading to those subsequent goals.
“[It’s been] huge in the two games,” Motzko said. “It gets the crowd going. It’s exciting here, in this building, when you get going. There’s nothing like winning two games in a row. … It’s great for the guys to feel that energy and excitement.”
Though Minnesota did get the victory, the game didn’t start without at least a little bit of adversity. Less than a minute into the game, Niagara’s Dylan Mills sent a puck past Minnesota goaltender Jared Moe for an early 1-0 lead for the visiting Purple Eagles.
Minnesota forward Brannon McManus said it was mostly miscommunication on the play, and that those plays might come with growth from two freshmen on that forward line. McManus, a junior, was complemented by freshmen Jonny Sorenson and Ben Meyers on the line that got the start on Saturday.
Once the line got back to the bench after the goal, Motzko said he told them to forget about it and play the rest of the game as usual.
The line suffered some turnovers and weren’t able to get the puck deep early on, but eventually they found their stride. Though Motzko credited Meyers and Sorenson with being two of the best examples of players in Friday’s game, he said their nose-to-the-grindstone play was only part of why they started the game on Saturday. McManus said the mantra throughout the game was to get pucks deep, and that is something that his line got better at as the game progressed.
“I’m spreading it around a little bit, really it was to get McManus [going,]” Motzko said. “There’s certain guys you want to get going … we needed him.”
McManus scored the Gophers’ second goal and had two shots, while Meyers had two shots as well. Their play was as noticeable as it was from Friday’s game. They were often the first guys to pucks, winning races and creating offensive chances for Minnesota.
That style was evident on McManus’ goal to put the Gophers ahead 2-1 in the second period. McManus streaked into the offensive zone, won a puck battle and stickhandled his way through defenders along the goal line to the goalmouth. After a few whacks at the puck, he got the tough goal to put Minnesota up for the first time in the game.
Minnesota will face rival Minnesota Duluth in a home-and-home series this coming weekend. Motzko said it will be a tough series because the Bulldogs were swept this weekend by Wisconsin.
“There’s a lot of positives right now and we need to enjoy it for a very short amount of time,” Motzko said. “We’re going to have a very ornery team coming in here next week. The speed limit is going to go up.”