Reserved for only the most special occasions, one of the Minnesota Golden Gophers mascot’s most seldom used accessories was out on the ice in full force after Saturday’s game.
The Gophers skated to center ice to salute the 3M Arena at Mariucci crowd after a 4-1 victory Saturday to cap off the team’s second home series sweep this season and the first in conference play.
“That was a good weekend for us,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “A good forecheck, balance throughout our entire lineup, good goaltending … Give our guys a lot of credit, they just came to play this weekend.”
The highlight of the weekend was Minnesota’s second line. The combination of forwards Sampo Ranta, Ben Meyers and Brannon McManus set the tone for the Gophers’ offense by tallying 14 points and scoring seven of the team’s 10 goals this weekend.
Ranta was the goal scoring leader with three goals and one assist. His goal on Saturday came on a 3-on-1 play where Meyers sent him a pass in the offensive zone, where Ranta took it and lobbed it over the sprawling Ohio State goaltender Tommy Nappier.
McManus was the overall point leader with six — two goals and four assists. He got his goal on Saturday thanks to a deflection off an Ohio State defender’s skate. He got a nifty no-look pass from Ranta that he flung towards the net, where Meyers was tied up with a defender looking to get his stick on McManus’ feed. In the end, it wasn’t how they drew it up, but a goal nonetheless.
“I think I was going to Benny, but it was just a lucky bounce,” McManus said. “I’ll take it. It’s been awhile since I scored. I don’t really count the empty net as a quality goal, but, like I said, I’ll take it.”
Meyers, the newest addition to the line, added a pair of goals and assists on the weekend as well. His goal on Saturday was a pure effort play right in front of the net.
He got the puck right in front of Nappier with a sea of Buckeyes’ defenders and got a shot off, point blank, on the forehand. Nappier saved it, but the rebound came right back to Meyers, so he corralled it to the backhand and lifted it right over a laid-out goaltender for the score.
“Benny, he’s just an all around great player,” McManus said. “He’s really made an impact so far and he’s an easy guy to play with.”
Ohio State’s goaltender was ranked in the top 10 coming into the weekend of play, backstopping the No. 6 Buckeyes to a formidable record. He was out with an injury for three games prior to this series but had a 1.89 goals-against average and a stellar record. In turn, Minnesota handed him two straight losses where he gave up four goals each outing.
On the other hand, Minnesota’s goaltending was consistent in two starts from Jack LaFontaine. LaFontaine gave up one goal on Saturday amid Ohio State’s best offensive push in the game early in the third period but held on strong as the Buckeyes attempted to eat away at the Gophers’ lead.
“I don’t think [the defensemen] get enough credit,” LaFontaine said. “I had a very easy night, I knew the first five were going to be hard, but they do such a good job of blocking shots, and the regroups in the d-zone have gotten so much better over the course of the season.”
Since the Mariucci Classic, the Gophers have a 5-1 record, a fair turnaround from the below-.500 hockey they played in the first half of the season. With the victory Saturday, Minnesota is back to a .500 record at 10-10-4.
Minnesota moved to fifth place in the Big Ten standings after the weekend and will take on seventh-place Wisconsin in Madison for the team’s next series.
“I think it just started after the break,” McManus said. “There’s a buzz in the air, especially at practice. Our goal is Friday nights [to get a victory], get that one out of the way.”