After last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Penn State, the Minnesota Golden Gophers quickly had to put the rout in the rearview mirror. They even got a day off Tuesday to help recover their body and minds.
As everyone attested after the game, the week of practice paid off for the Gophers, as they defeated rival Wisconsin 4-1 at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday night.
“That was a good game for our squad tonight,” said head coach Bob Motzko postgame. “It started early in the week. We buried last weekend. It wasn’t fun. We couldn’t dwell on it.”
Minnesota got out to a 2-0 lead 5:33 into the game with goals from Blake McLaughlin and Scott Reedy. The goals just came 67 seconds apart to help get the Gophers out ahead.
The Gophers had several chances to extend the lead to 3-0 in the first, but could not convert. They took the lead into the second period, but three straight penalties — including a 44-second 5-on-3 — derailed the Gophers’ momentum. Wisconsin scored on the latter power play of the 5-on-3 to cut Minnesota’s lead. The Gophers were able to get back into the game late into the second and keep their lead heading into the third thanks to big saves from Jack LaFontaine.
“We did a good job of shutting down their momentum,” said Gophers forward Jonny Sorenson. “He was remarkable. He was our rock tonight.”
In the third, Minnesota gave an all-around effort to secure its first win in two weeks. Sorenson and Sampo Ranta scored insurance markers for the Gophers, while LaFontaine stopped all seven shots he faced before being removed from the game with 6:51 to play due to an injury.
Another key for the Gophers in securing their win, especially in the third, was defensive play. Whether it was blocking shots or getting sticks into the passing lanes, the Gophers went all out, a lesson that was learned from their Penn State sweep last weekend.
“That was the critical part of the game, was us selling out,” said Motzko. “We had that happen to us a week ago [against Penn State]. The team we played had a lot of talent and they were leading us in blocked shots.”
Motzko went on to say how Penn State’s effort last weekend was a lesson learned for his young squad. “Staudacher had two big blocks in the third. The [shot] chart says we had 29 blocks, you count some sticks [in passing lanes] we got in there, and that’s just smart hockey. You want to call it defensive hockey, you can. But it’s just smart hockey.”
The smart hockey that Motzko was referring to, was a point of emphasis for the team during the week at practice as well. At least from LaFontaine’s point of view, as he recalled postgame. “That was a big focus for us. They have some guys that love to get shots through. My forwards were amazing. My defensemen were amazing. There was a play where Scott Reedy went into a butterfly [to block a shot]. Again, that goes back to intensity.”
Reedy even said of the blocked shots, “It shows we came ready to play.”
The Gophers will now go for their first six-point weekend — a true sweep — on Saturday night against what will surely be a hungry Badgers team hoping to avoid another defeat. It was a quick turn of the page for LaFontaine. “(The) weekend is not over. Fifty percent done, [we] have to finish it off.”