MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers' storyline in the preseason has been all about the dozen new faces on the roster. But a few familiar names made the difference in the exhibition opener.
Sophomores Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin scored the team’s goals as the Gophers took an early lead, fell behind, then rallied for a 2-2 overtime tie with Mount Royal on Sunday, Oct. 6. They sent 39 shots at the Mount Royal net and had eight power plays in the game, but managed just the two goals in their first time on the ice together in a game setting.
“There were 152 times tonight where we wanted a better play,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “There were so many opportunities and then a lot of discombobulation with all the special teams. And then you have to say to yourself that’s going to be better in a week, two weeks, a month.”
All three of the team’s candidates for the goaltending job played a period, with junior Jack LaFontaine starting, freshman Jared Moe playing in the second stanza, and freshman Justen Close getting the third and overtime.
Walker, who was named the first sophomore co-captain in modern history of the Gophers hockey program, wasted little time reminding the sparse crowd on hand why he was the Big Ten’s top freshman last season. While centering the team’s top line, he put on a few early displays of his speed across the middle and produced the early lead with a low shot that beat Cougars goalie Wyatt Hoflin on the glove side.
LaFontaine stopped all six shots he faced in the opening period. Moe started the second with the Gophers killing a penalty and was tested right away. He ended up with seven saves in the period, but gave up a pair of Mount Royal goals for a 2-1 Cougars lead after 40 minutes. It was nearly 3-1, but a scramble play in front of Moe that was called a goal on the ice was reviewed and disallowed due to a high stick.
“I felt we left Moe out to dry,” Motzko said. “What happened in the second period was we came out great in the first 10 minutes of the game, and then we turned our cute button on, and all we did was turn pucks over. Everything they got was off turnovers.”
The Cougars had fallen 5-2 at Minnesota State, Mankato on Saturday night in a penalty-filled game. That element of Canadian college hockey began to show late in the second period. Hoflin stopped all 21 shots he saw in the period, and got a front row seat for a scrum in the final seconds as Walker locked up with Mount Royal’s Chris Gerrie and Cougars top line left wing Sean Richards was tossed from the game for contact to the head.
Early in the third period, on the ensuing five-minute power play, the Gophers knotted the game on McLaughlin’s shot just inside the far post.
“We’d been waiting a long time for this one,” McLaughlin said, noting that the chemistry established between him and Walker last season came back right away. “I don’t think we missed a beat too much out there. That was fun.”
The Cougars got 37 saves from Hoflin, and had the only three shots of the overtime to salvage a tie.
“We had lots of adversity on back-to-back nights and having to kill a lot of penalties, so I was really happy,” said Mount Royal coach Bert Gilling. “I thought our guys showed a lot of grit. These are talented, fast teams, but we created chances and had good looks. We always bounced back after all those (penalty) kills.”
The Gophers open the regular season on Friday at Colorado College.
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Mount Royal 0-2-0-0—2
First period — 1. MIN, Sammy Walker (Blake McLaughlin, Robbie Stucker), 3:12, (pp). Penalties — Kade Jensen, MRU (hooking), 2:37; Tyler Nanne, MIN (holding the stick), 3:32; Ryley Lindgren, MRU (goaltender interference), 8:43; Tyson Helgesen, MRU (hooking), 14:20; Hunter Zandee, MRU (elbowing), 18:03; Nathan Burke, MIN (interference), 19:27.
Second period — 2. MRU, Hunter Zandee (Bradley Kennedy, Mitch Lipon), 9:29. 3. MRU, Kennedy (Helgesen, Jamal Watson), 12:23. Penalties -- Keegan Iverson, MRU (hooking), 6:06; Josh Bly, MRU (interference), 14:56; Walker, MIN (roughing), 19:51; Chris Gerrie, MRU (roughing), 19:51; Sean Richards, MRU (5 & game misconduct -- contact to the head), 19:51.
Third period — 4. MIN, Blake McLaughlin (Sampo Ranta, Jonny Sorenson), 3:03, (pp). Penalties — Gerrie, MRU (slashing), 4:23; Joey Marooney, MIN (roughing), 11:23; Zandee, MRU (roughing), 11:23; Jensen, MRU (roughing), 11:23; Burke, MIN (interference), 12:55.
Overtime — No scoring. Penalties — Ben Meyers, MIN (delay of game), 1:24
Shots on goal — MRU 6-9-10-3—28; MIN 8-21-10-0-39. Goalies — Wyatt Hoflin, MRU (39 shots-37 saves); Jack LaFontaine, MIN (6-6), Jared Moe, MIN (9-7), Justen Close, MIN (13-13). Power plays — MRU 0-of-4; MIN 2-of-8. Referees — Robert Lukkason, Ken Anderson. Linesmen — Jonathan Morrison, Chad Roethlisberger. Att. — 6,482.