A slow, chippy first period changed the tone quickly for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the form of a three-goal flurry in 1:40 to pad a lead they took to the third period and eventually win the game, 4-1.
Minnesota took home its 15th Mariucci Classic title with the victory.
The Gophers took down a tough Bemidji State team on Saturday to punch their ticket into the title game against St. Cloud State. Though St. Cloud is not ranked, it beat Minnesota State on Saturday 7-2 to get to the Mariucci Classic championship game on Sunday.
“This is our group, I liked how we played tonight,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “We had a very strong game. Special teams, penalty kill, good offensive zone time, great goaltending. That was the focus on how we were playing tonight.”
The scoring all began with captain Sammy Walker unofficially breaking a goal-scoring drought. Walker has technically had two goals in the last two months, but both were empty-netters. His last goal with a goaltender in the net was against Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 25.
His goal on the power play was set on a screen and crisp passing from his linemates Ben Meyers and defenseman Robbie Stucker. Though the goal did come on the power play, Walker’s line that includes other forwards Blake McLaughlin and Nathan Burke were buzzing all evening while creating chances. The combination of the three players had six shots in the game.
Co-captain Tyler Nanne continued the scoring less than a minute later with an even-strength goal from the blue line right off the faceoff. Again, the goal was scored with at least two Gophers’ forwards in front of the goaltender’s sight lines.
The screen work was efficient on the two goals and it was shown in most of their shooting attack for the whole night. Shots right from the slot and below the circles were important to generating successful scoring chances.
The third goal, less than 1:30 later, came on a picturesque pass from McLaughlin to Bryce Brodzinski. St. Cloud State was on a line change that was slow to get out back to the far end of the ice. McLaughlin realized this and coaxed defender Ben Brinkman from behind his own net to get a pass to him at the offensive blue line.
McLaughlin further showed his awareness and realized Brodzinski coming off on a change and the St. Cloud State defense didn’t realize he snuck in the back end. Brodzinski ended up with a breakaway inside the blue line and sent a puck past the new goaltender David Hrenak.
“Getting one in the first weekend of the second half hopefully builds some momentum for me,” Brodzinski said. “Hopefully we get this team going off our two wins right away.”
St. Cloud State’s starting goaltender Jaxon Castor started the game as he did when he held No. 2 Minnesota State to two goals the night before. He gave up those two quick goals and was relinquished of his duties after making 11 saves on 13 shots. Hrenak came in and faced a goal early in his appearance but shut the door from there.
In the end, Minnesota’s defense held the lead and blocked shots. Defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf led the way with five blocked shots. Closely behind him was Nanne with four and forward Scott Reedy with three. Overall, the Gophers had 21 blocked shots in the game.
“How about those guys, on 5-on-3 they were unbelievable,” goaltender Jack LaFontaine said. “Especially Ryan Zuhlsdorf, I think he had about five in the second period on that kill. Kudos to the killers, we take a lot of pride in our penalty kill.”