MINNEAPOLIS – On a team with many talented young players, sometimes it takes upperclassmen leadership and production to pull out wins for you.
That was the case on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci, as the 7th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers got goals from senior forwards Leon Bristedt and Mike Szmatula to defeat the 9th ranked Clarkson Golden Knights 2-1 for their first sweep of the season.
“Good weekend for us, beating a quality team like Clarkson back-to-back nights,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “They got some real top-end guys and it was the type of series I expected it to be.
“Really happy for our senior captains (Bristedt and Szmatula). You wanna get that first goal. Hopefully they relax more and a few more will go in.”
Szmatula talked about how it took a little while for the upperclassmen to get back on the scoresheet, and it seemed all that was needed was just a little patience.
“Early on, we’re struggling trying to find our identity,” Szmatula said. “You know you’re gonna go through some tough times; you keep getting back up when you get knocked down.”
Both Minnesota goals came on the power play, and Lucia was pleased about that unit snapping out of a recent funk with three goals on the man advantage this weekend.
“Nice to see our power play come through,” he said. “[Clarkson is] a very good penalty-killing team. Combine that with a really good goaltender-it’s hard to score against them.”
According to Lucia, the Knights had only given up three power play goals all year coming into the weekend.
“We were able to get three on the weekend, so that’s a step forward for us,” he said.
Clarkson did not come out with the start they wanted, but they did manage to get on the board first after a rogue Nico Sturm shot from behind the net somehow found its way behind Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn and was poked in by a hard-charging Sheldon Rempal. It was the only shot of the period for the Knights.
Things started to unravel from there for CU later in the first period as defenseman Kelly Summers was issued a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting Gophers forward Darian Romanko up high in the neutral zone, leaving for contact to the head. Bristedt tied the game nearly two minutes later, connecting on a snipe from the slot.
It was the first point of the season for the senior alternate captain, and he feels happy to get that first goal out of the way.
“Felt really good,” Bristedt said. “Of course, taking the monkey off the back scoring one here-hopefully I can reset from here and start going from today.”
Mike Szmatula joined the party 23 seconds into the second period, scoring his first of the year on a backdoor feed from Mittelstadt for a tap-in, which eventually proved to be the game-winner.
“Casey actually told me he was gonna pass it to me and help me get my first one because it’s been forever,” Szmatula said. “I kinda chuckled and then saw the play develop. A guy like that who has hands like that-just kinda stay on the backdoor there and make sure I got a hard stick. He made a great pass and I was able to put it home.”
Clarkson head coach Casey Jones thought that the overall effort of his team was good, but not great.
“I didn’t think we were moving great. I thought we’d persevere, that five-minute penalty put us on our heels,” Jones said. “I thought we were really good in the third; I was proud of our guys with the effort in the third period.”
It just didn’t seem to be Clarkson’s night, as they only recorded three shots on goal in the first 30:10 of the game and finished with 19, unable to fully test Schierhorn until late in the game. However, they did apply pressure and forechecked better in the final minutes despite being unable to score the tying goal. Jones sees that as one of the important takeaways for his team heading back home.
“We probably needed 60 minutes both nights to get a W here on the road,” Jones said. “We had spurts on both nights. I liked our effort all weekend. Hopefully it’s put us in a situation to be prepared for ECAC play. Overall, I thought we persevered and learned a lot about ourselves.”
ECAC play begins next week for Clarkson (4-3-1) as RPI and Union visit on Friday and Saturday respectively. Minnesota (5-3-0) goes back to Big Ten play as they entertain Michigan State next weekend.
Despite the Spartans about to be the first unranked team the Gophers face all season, they are still 4-2 to start the year after sweeping Lake Superior State in East Lansing this weekend, and Lucia isn’t about to overlook them.
“The conference looks to be a lot stronger and deeper,” he said. “It’s gonna be a really competitive conference this year. We’re at home, and we gotta do everything we can to protect home ice.”
Knights goaltender Jake Kielly finished with 21 saves to take the loss. Schierhorn made 18 for the Gophers.
CU goal at 6:06: Sheldon Rempal (4). Assisted by Nico Sturm (4) and Devin Brosseau (4).
MINN power play goal at 9:45: Leon Bristedt (1). Assisted by Ryan Zuhlsdorf (4) and Tommy Novak (5).
MINN PP goal at :23: Mike Szmatula (1). Assisted by Casey Mittelstadt (5) and Rem Pitlick (5).
Power plays: CU 0-3, MINN 2-5.
Shots on goal: CU 19, MINN 23.