MINNEAPOLIS – At the end of an emotional weekend for the University of Minnesota hockey program, it seemed only fitting they would win their holiday tournament.
Thanks to an early second-period scoring onslaught, the Minnesota Golden Gophers claimed the Mariucci Classic for the 15th time in school on Sunday night with a 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State.
“I liked how we played tonight. We had a very strong game,” former St. Cloud State and current Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said. “Special teams, penalty kill, good offensive zone time, great goaltending. That was the focus, and our guys came to play.”
Two weeks and a day after longtime legendary Gophers coach Doug Woog passed away at age 75, Minnesota played their hearts out in a brilliant tournament that Wooger would have been proud of. The team honored their program’s former coach with gold jerseys donning his last name on Saturday night in their 5-2 victory over Bemidji State, and on Sunday they wore a patch on their home white jerseys in his honor.
Minnesota seized momentum in a big way to start the second period, hitting St. Cloud State with a three-goal flurry over a span of 1:40. Sammy Walker got things started with a power-play goal on a low wrist shot from the left circle. Tyler Nanne doubled the lead 44 seconds later with a seeing-eye shot from the right point finding its way in through traffic, and Bryce Brodzinski, going up against older brother Easton of the Huskies, joined the fun with a breakaway goal 56 seconds after Nanne’s tally. Before you could blink, it was suddenly a 3-0 Gophers lead.
“We bumped [Bryce] up [to the first line], and what you saw him do tonight, you’re gonna see him do quite a bit in his career as he gets that puck. There’s no doubt what he’s gonna do,” Motzko said.
The Huskies had a chance to chip into the Minnesota lead with a power play late in the period, which included a two-man advantage for 1:09. But Gophers goaltender Jack LaFontaine held up thanks largely to a good defense and all the blocked shots in front of him, and Minnesota was able to get the huge kill.
“A couple good shifts by those guys put us back on our heels and we never recovered,” said Huskies assistant coach Mike Gibbons, who’s serving as the head coach while Brett Larson is away with the U.S. World Juniors team.
The Gophers kept up their stingy defense and goaltending throughout the third, eventually frustrating the Huskies into making mistakes and taking penalties at crucial times. SCSU’s fate was essentially sealed when they had to kill a 5-on-3 power play with just under eight minutes left. Time wasn’t on their side after they killed it off and Scott Reedy sealed the victory for Minnesota with an empty-net goal with 2:19 to go. Micah Miller broke LaFontaine’s shutout bid with 1:38 remaining to put the Huskies on the board at last, capping the scoring.
“We were fighting for a goal, and we just got that goal way too late,” Gibbons said.
Motzko faced SCSU for the first time since he left the school he coached for 13 years. He faced his former assistant and good friend Gibbons on Sunday, and you could tell it meant something to Gibbons.
“I got nothing but respect for Bob,” Gibbons said. “Wasn’t fun losing, but to his credit, good for them, good for him.”
But how did it feel for Motzko himself?
“It was weird when I stepped on the bench and looked at the jerseys. I can tell you that,” he said.
LaFontaine won the tournament’s MVP honors with a 24-save performance for Minnesota. Jaxon Castor started the game in net for St. Cloud State, but he was pulled after allowing the first two goals of the game in succession. David Hrenak made 18 saves in relief.
Mariucci Classic All-Tournament Team
Zach Okabe – St. Cloud State
Sammy Walker – Minnesota
Jami Krannila – St. Cloud State
Tyler Nanne – Minnesota
Nick Perbix – St. Cloud State
Jack LaFontaine – Minnesota
Jack LaFontaine – Minnesota
MINN power-play goal at 3:46: Sammy Walker (7). Assisted by Robbie Stucker (3) and Ben Meyers (9).
MINN goal at 4:30: Tyler Nanne (3). Assisted by Jaxon Nelson (3).
MINN goal at 5:26: Bryce Brodzinski (2). Assisted by Blake McLaughlin (7) and Ben Brinkman (1).
MINN empty-net goal at 17:41: Scott Reedy (9). Assisted by Ryan Zuhlsdorf (5) and Nanne (4).
SCSU goal at 18:22: Micah Miller (3). Assisted by Jake Wahlin (4).
Power plays: SCSU 0-4, MINN 1-3.
Shots on goal: SCSU 25, MINN 33.