Captain spurs comeback as Gophers rally to sweep Lindenwood
The Minnesota Gophers trailed for the first time this season, but their strength on defense came through as offense from defensemen Mike Koster and Brock Faber spurred a rally and kept their record unblemished.
MINNEAPOLIS — The maroon ‘C’ sewn onto the shoulder of Minnesota Gophers defenseman Brock Faber’s sweater designates him as the team’s captain. But in the Gophers’ second game of the season — an unexpected dogfight with first-year program Lindenwood, the letter could stand for “comeback” as well.
Faber had a goal, which was the eventual game-winner, and two assists as Minnesota rallied from a surprising second period deficit and beat the upstart Lions 6-4 on Sunday evening.
“I hate lessons, and teams like this need lessons, but thank goodness we won the game and we can build off it,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, praising Faber’s leadership on the bench and on the ice when the game was on the line.
“He was vocal, he was commanding in his play, and he produced, and that’s what leaders do,” Motzko said. “And he just turned 20 years old. That’s a big step for him, but he’s got the heart of a lion.”
After Lindenwood forged a 4-4 tie early in the third on a power play goal, defenseman Mike Koster set up a Bryce Brodzinski goal to re-take the lead, then Koster scored his first of the season on a power play to provide some breathing room.
It was a night of firsts for both teams. For Lindenwood, there was a first goal and a first lead, albeit short-lived. For Minnesota, freshmen Brody Lamb and Connor Kurth got their first collegiate goals, and Gophers goalie Owen Bartoszkiewicz got his first collegiate win in his first start with 27 saves.
The Gophers (2-0-0) led 2-1 after a penalty-filled opening period, which saw Kurth and Matthew Knies score after set-up passes by Faber, but Kyle Jeffers got the Lions on the board on a power play. Lindenwood began the second period with an impressive push, peppering Bartoszkiewicz on a power play, then tying the game on a breakaway goal by Hunter Johannes – one of three Minnesotans on the Lions’ roster.
“We had our hands full. There’s a difference between being emotional and playing with emotion, and like anything else, you want to learn,” said Lions coach Rick Zombo. “We had ourselves set up to win the third period. All it takes was one goal…This team believed it had an opportunity to potentially knock off the Minnesota Gophers. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime for these kids.”
Lindenwood (0-2-0) scored twice in the second to briefly take a 3-2 lead, before Faber spurred the rally. Starting goalie Matt Ladd had 39 saves for the Lions in the loss.
Imperfect debut, but a win
Bartoszkiewicz joined the Gophers in January last season, coming over from Youngstown in the USHL after Jack LaFontaine unexpectedly signed a pro contract in the middle of the season. But Sunday was his first time on the ice in a game, and he got a win, even if his coach saw room to improve.
“It was a struggle. He hadn’t been in there. The biggest thing was he got through 60 minutes. He hadn’t been in there in a long time, and he needed to do that,” Motzko said. “He needed to fight through and he did.”
Koster noted that it was the first time he had played defense in front of anyone other than Justen Close or LaFontaine, and offered an apology to Bartoszkiewicz for the breakaway the Gophers gave up in the second period.
“We kind of hung him out to dry a few times tonight, one breakaway for sure,” Koster said. “He very much earned the first win of his career, so we made sure to say congratulations and stuff. He’s been working really hard, so it’s cool to see all his hard work pay off. He made some big saves to keep us in, or it definitely could’ve been a different game.
When Faber was a freshman, the season started in November with home games played before crowds of 150 or less as the pandemic had college sports locked down, and games played on midweek nights were not uncommon. Going back to a more traditional Friday-Saturday schedule last season, Faber said playing on a Sunday was an oddity.
“Normally Sunday you lay on the couch and watch football all day. It’s a lot different today though and (I have) class in the morning, class tomorrow night,” Faber said. “It is what it is, I guess, but I definitely prefer Friday-Saturday.”
Even with 3M Arena at Mariucci roughly half full for both Lindenwood games, Faber praised the team’s rookies for getting their feet wet and getting used to a college hockey atmosphere a little bit over the season’s first weekend.
“They were all great. They’re all so unique in the way they play and I just think back to when I was a freshman, how nervous I was playing in front of nobody,” Faber said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through, but it’s a special group, for sure. There are a lot of things we need to learn as a hockey team, but those guys will catch right up to pace soon and we’ll keep building every day.”
The parents of Lindenwood freshman defenseman Joe Prouty only needed to travel 20 miles or so, from their home in Burnsville, Minn., to see his college debut. As they enjoyed a pregame beer in the parking lot north of the rink, they joked that on Saturday and Sunday evenings they had conducted the first tailgate parties in the history of Lindenwood hockey.
Up next for the Gophers is a home-and-home series with in-state rival Minnesota State Mankato. They have not faced the Mavericks in the regular season since November 2018, but MSU has ended Minnesota’s last two seasons in the NCAA playoffs, including a 4-1 win by the Mavs in the Frozen Four semifinals in Boston last April. The teams play Friday night in Minneapolis and Saturday night in Mankato.
Healthy scratches for Sunday’s game for the Gophers were defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish and forwards Colin Schmidt and John Mittelstadt.
Minnesota 6, Lindenwood 4
First period — 1. MN, Connor Kurth 1 (Brock Faber, Garrett Pinoniemi), 12:02. 2. LU, Kyle Jeffers 1 (David Gagnon, Caleb Price), 15:07, (PP). 3. MN, Matthew Knies 2 (Faber, Jackson LaCombe), 17:25. Penalties — Drew Kuzma, LU (slashing), 5:31; Joe Prouty, LU (roughing), 14:11; Jimmy Snuggerud, MN (roughing), 14:11; Snuggerud, MN (high sticking), 14:11; Kieran Ruscheinski, LU (holding), 15:50; Kurth, MN (hooking), 16:26; Jack Anderson, LU (elbowing), 17:40.
Second period — 4. LU, Hunter Johannes 1 (Andy Willis), 5:46. 5. LU, Adam Conquest 1 (Jackson Wozniak), 7:01. 6. MN, Brody Lamb 1 (Ryan Chesley), 8:54. 7. Faber 1 (Logan Cooley), 10:56. Penalties — Cooley, MN (high sticking), 1:57; Cade DeStefani, LU (interference), 17:40; Bryce Brodzinski, MN (slashing), 19:05; Willis, LU (holding), 19:45.
Third period — 8. LU, Ryan Finnegan 1 (Jeffers, Caleb Price), 0:59, (PP). 9. MN, Brodzinski 1 (Mike Koster, Rhett Pitlick), 6:01, (PP). 10. MN, Koster 1 (Luke Mittelstadt, Huglen), 10:49, (PP). Penalties — Aaron Huglen, MN (interference), 0:08; DeStefani, LU (high sticking), 5:52; Drew Kuzma, LU (high sticking), 9:57; Shane LaVelle, LU (roughing), 15:42; Charlie Strobel, MN (roughing), 15:42.
Shots on goal — MN 9-21-15—45; LU 9-12-10—31. Goalies — Owen Bartoszkiewicz, MN (31 shots-27 saves); Matt Ladd, LU (45-39). Power plays — MN 2-of-7, LU 2-of-4. Referees — Andrew Bruggeman, Kenny Anderson. Linesmen — Jonathan Morrison, Sam Shikowsky. Att. — 5,985.