After regulation, the Gophers’ men’s hockey team was tied with the Niagara Purple Eagles at two goals apiece. Minnesota’s captain Sammy Walker didn’t wait too long in overtime to send the fans home with a 3-2 overtime victory.
“When I saw it, I said ‘oh, that’s going to be a goal,’” forward Sampo Ranta said. “I knew what he was going to do, and I was super happy.”
Less than a minute into the sudden-death overtime frame, Walker streaked into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 with his linemate, fellow sophomore Blake McLaughlin.
Walker’s speed got him over the blue line and past the defender, and in the blink of an eye, he ripped a shot on the far side of Niagara goaltender, Brian Wilson. From there, the arena erupted, and the Gophers’ bench cleared to celebrate the captain’s game winner in the home opener.
“In the neutral zone, I saw I had a step on the [defender],” Walker said. “I got in there, then it was a 2-on-1, and the [defender] was taking away the pass, so I just shot it.”
Though Minnesota came away with the win, the game was far from perfect for the home team. The Gophers fell behind in the second period and were dominated nearly the entire frame to head to the third period down 1-0.
The Gophers couldn’t develop scoring chances and that started with passing that was incomplete and inaccurate when there was the smallest possible window to thread the puck. At the end of the second period, Minnesota was outshot 10-3 and out attempted 21-12.
“We’re a little frustrated right now of how we played,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “The game needed a different tone; it needed a different feel from us. You just saw it in spurts.”
After the dismal second period from the Gophers, they came out with new life, which culminated on a goal on the power play. Nearly six minutes into the third, Minnesota had sustained offensive zone pressure on a power play.
Defenseman Robbie Stucker had the puck high in the zone and ripped it towards the goal. The shot was tipped by forward Ranta for his second goal in three games. His goal was created thanks to Stucker realizing Ranta created a screen where the Wilson could not see the incoming puck from the point.
“I’m a big body, so I feel like I’m pretty good at tipping pucks,” Ranta said. “Just being in front of the net, making it hard for their goalie. For sure, if you want to score goals, you go there.”
The crowd was even happier when 1:05 later the team used their momentum and scored again, that time to take the lead.
Freshman Jonny Sorenson scored his first collegiate goal at even strength, riding the wave of life that was created on the Gophers’ bench from Ranta’s goal on the power play, bringing Minnesota back into the game.
“Once we scored, we got life on the bench,” Motzko said. “It happens, we’re at home, our crowd was great, they got into it. We gave them something to cheer about… the hard way, but we gave them something to cheer about.”
Minnesota’s lead was short-lived because just a few minutes later, a broken play off a faceoff led to Niagara scoring a goal that squeaked under Minnesota goaltender Jack LaFontaine’s right pad. The rest of the period, though, he stopped 10 shots to keep the score tied and Minnesota with a better chance for victory.
LaFontaine finished the game with 25 saves and two goals allowed. It was his second game of the season after he started the Friday night game last week against Colorado College.
“[LaFontaine] was huge,” Walker said. “He had a great game. There [were] times where they had us on the ropes, and he kept us in there.”
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