MINNEAPOLIS – It’s been a while since the Minnesota Golden Gophers missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons.
At times this season, it looked like that would happen again. But there may not be too many questions surrounding this team after the way they ended the regular season, and now the Gophers head into postseason play with a renewed sense of confidence.
Jack Ramsey and Darian Romanko both scored in their final regular-season home game as seniors, and Rem Pitlick had his team-leading 19th goal of the season late to help Minnesota race past Arizona State 5-2 on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gophers recorded their first home sweep of the season and their first at home overall since December 2017 against Army.
“It was a solid weekend for us. Real solid,” Motzko said.
“We’ve got some wins here in the last few weeks. Let’s keep playing. You have to have a good feel about you right now.”
Minnesota finished the regular season with five wins over their final six games, all against ranked teams. The Gophers also ended a tough nonconference slate with a 5-5-1 record.
Minnesota (16-15-4) blitzed Arizona State (21-12-1) from the first puck drop, scoring three times in the first 13:07 and outshooting the Sun Devils 15-3 in the opening 20 minutes. ASU, meanwhile, still couldn’t get out of their own way on the penalty sheet, getting called for four more infractions for a total of 14 penalties taken for the weekend.
Brannon McManus upped the Minnesota lead to 4-0 early in the second period, but his goal was overshadowed by an illegal hit up high by Jacob Wilson as he leveled Sampo Ranta on the zone entry. The review of the penalty didn’t take long, and Wilson was tossed. He will likely be suspended for the first game of the NCAA Tournament.
Ranta, meanwhile, was visibly upset as he was helped off the ice and into the locker room. After receiving stitches on his chin, Ranta was able to return later in the second period. Motzko couldn’t believe he was able to get back in.
“He got rocked pretty good,” he said.
Minnesota didn’t get anything going on their long ensuing power play, and Dominic Garcia put Arizona State on the board with a shorthanded goal. Brett Gruber later added a tap-in goal to cut the Gophers’ lead to two. Motzko wasn’t pleased with his team’s play over that 12-minute stretch.
“We got outshot on our own power play,” he said. “We turned over every puck on the power play. They got momentum off it.”
Pitlick finished off the game’s scoring with a breakaway shorthanded goal with 2:45 left.
Joey Daccord, who was the best player all weekend for the Sun Devils, was fantastic in net for the second night as he made 26 saves. Eric Schierhorn made 19 before giving way to fellow senior netminder Brock Kautz for the final 27 seconds in a classy move by Motzko and the Gophers coaches.
No more games remain on the schedule for Arizona State. The Sun Devils, who currently sit in the 8th spot in the Pairwise rankings, are likely a lock for the NCAA Tournament barring apocalyptic events, but they’ll have to wait for four more weeks before taking the ice.
As for Minnesota, their run to the field of 16 is just beginning. While they will play on home ice at least once in the conference playoffs, they need to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA’s. The 3rd-seeded Gophers will host the 6th-seeded Michigan Wolverines next week.
Minnesota has not missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons since missing it three years in a row from 2009-11.
MINN goal at :42: Jack Ramsey (3). Assisted by Brent Gates (16) and Jack Sadek (13).
MINN goal at 10:02: Darian Romanko (1). Assisted by Sadek (14) and Scott Reedy (3).
MINN goal at 13:07: Sampo Ranta (5). Assisted by Ryan Zuhlsdorf (7) and Brannon McManus (11).
MINN goal at 1:07: McManus (13). Assisted by Tommy Novak (16) and Tyler Nanne (8).
ASU shorthanded goal at 5:31: Dominic Garcia (2). Assisted by Steenn Pasichnuk (6).
ASU goal at 13:32: Brett Gruber (7). Assisted by Joshua Maniscalc (15) and Tyler Busch (14).
MINN shorthanded goal at 17:15: Rem Pitlick (19). Assisted by Gates (17).
Power plays: ASU 0-1, MINN 0-4.
Shots on goal: ASU 22, MINN 31.