Minnesota opened up the Bob Motzko Era at home in fantastic fashion, putting up seven goals on the notoriously stingy Minnesota Duluth defense to snap a nine-game winless streak against their—I guess we can call them this again—intra-state rivals.
Here were my three biggest takeaways from tonight’s game.
- Minnesota’s energy line gets rewarded
One of the things that stood out to me in Friday night’s game was the play of Minnesota’s third line of Scott Reedy centering Brannon McManus and Garrett Wait. The line didn’t score up on the scoresheet, but was excellent at forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, making little effort plays on the backcheck, and generally kept the puck on the right end of the ice. We don’t get numbers on turnovers forced or Corsi, but I’d be willing to bet that line scored great in both categories.
That carried over into early in the game on Sunday night and they got rewarded. Brannon McManus scored the first goal of the game by going hard into a tough area in front of the UMD and collecting his own rebound to score a goal. The second goal came during a 4-on-4 that started in the Minnesota zone, but after a forced turnover at the blue line, Minnesota took the puck down to the other end and was able get a goal when Clayton Phillips shot was tipped by McManus.
Finally, in the third period, Garrett Wait scored his first career goal on a play that started with Brannon McManus being active and forcing a turnover in the Minnesota zone. There wasn’t really a lot expected out of Wait coming into this season after he never really took off as a scorer in the USHL after committing to Minnesota at a young age. But three years playing in the Waterloo Blackhawks organization is enough to turn anybody into a very detail-oriented, smart hockey player. Wait looks like he might surprise people with his productivity this year.
Goals may be tough to come by for Minnesota throughout the season. Adding a third line that can play with a lot of energy, combined with the skill they bring, could be huge for this team.
2. Minnesota Duluth’s offense looks like a problem
Minnesota Duluth made it to four goals tonight, ending a streak dating back to last year of eight games where they scored two or fewer in regulation, but it took a boatload of power play time and some late score effects to get there. They out-skated the Gophers much of the night and had a big advantage in shots on goal. But the quality of those chances never felt as dangerous as the few Minnesota was able to produce.
It’s tough to see where the goals are going to come from this year. Tufte-Krieger-Swaney is a decent line, but I don’t see them scoring enough to carry the team and I don’t think there’s a lot of goals behind them in the line-up. Both Cates brothers getting onto the scoresheet is a positive sign, but there are going to be some frustrating nights this season where UMD produces a high volume of shots, but isn’t able to convert often enough to win.
3. Minnesota gets some offense from the blue line
Minnesota’s power play is still a work in progress as they adjust to Bob Motzko’s system. There were a few moments where it looked like UMD knew what Minnesota was trying to do better than Minnesota, which very well may have been the case. But there were also glimpses, most notably on Tyler Sheehy’s first period goal, where you could see the potential.
On that play, Minnesota Duluth had a bad, season-officially-started-yesterday-type breakdown on the their penalty kill, giving Clayton Phillips the puck with time and space at the point. Phillips was able to Sheehy at the right crease with a cross-ice pass for an easy goal.
Minnesota really lacked a playmaker from the blue line last season, to the point that they brought in Clayton Phillips at mid-year hoping he could be that guy. Phillips was painfully over-matched last season, but with that experience under his belt, he already looks much more confident this year. He already has four points in two games this season after going scoreless in 11 games last year. He’s going to be given a lot of responsibility this year, especially on the power play, and so far, he has ran with it. Bob Motzko’s system is very friendly to defensemen that can move the puck on the power play—Jimmy Schuldt, Ethan Prow, and Nick Jensen were all All-Americans under him—and Phillips is in an excellent position.