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Grigals stars for Nanooks in upset of Gophers

Alaska Nanooks goalie Gustavs Grigals had 36 saves as his team took an early lead and held on for a 3-2 upset of the Minnesota Gophers on Saturday in Minneapolis.

Nevers Mason 0537.jpg
Minnesota Gophers forward Mason Nevers (18) tried to force a puck through the Alaska Nanooks' defense during their game at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Capping a week filled with off-ice adversity, the Minnesota Gophers found their toughest foe in the visiting team’s crease on Saturday.

Alaska goalie Gustavs Grigals proved to be the difference-maker as the Nanooks upset the Gophers 3-2, ending Minnesota’s win streak at three games. Grigals had 36 saves for the Nanooks in the win.

Blake McLauhglin and Chaz Lucius scored for the Gophers, who fell to 13-9-0 overall. While the loss does not affect their Big Ten standings, it could prove to be costly in the computer rankings that determine the NCAA tournament field. With the win, Alaska improved to 6-15-1.

“We conveniently were good when it was convenient for us tonight and then when it wasn’t convenient, we lost a little interest in spurts of the game,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, voicing his disappointment in the overall effort, especially from his upperclassmen. “Our power play needed to find a way. Their goalie was the best player on the ice tonight, no question. Give him a ton of credit, but we can’t give up what we gave up. Really poor.”

Gophers goalie Justen Close had 12 saves.

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The opening minute of the game provided a stark reminder that any team is dangerous if their opponent takes needless risks. A defensive turnover in the neutral zone gave the Nanooks the break they needed, and a backhand shot by Filip Fornaa Svensson in front of Close beat him over the shoulder for a 1-0 lead by the visitors after just 59 seconds had elapsed.

“When you start off with the lead, it’s just a different game,” said Nanooks coach Erik Largen. “We can’t play from behind against a team like Minnesota…We need to be able to get in front and play our game, and fortunately we did. They made a great push in the third, give them all the credit in the world. We just have a great goaltender and were able to weather the storms.”

Bad penalty at the end, we chased the game and we did enough (that) we deserved to lose the game tonight.
Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko

The Gophers tied it on McLaughlin’s second goal of the weekend, as he took a 100-foot pass from Matt Staudacher and zipped a puck past the Nanooks goalie to make it 1-1. But the celebration was brief. Just 23 seconds after McLaughlin’s goal, Matt McKim intercepted a Staudacher pass and shot toward Close, with Brayden Nicholetts deflecting the puck for a 2-1 Alaska lead. They added another goal off a rush late in the second for a 3-1 lead.

“It was a tough one tonight,” said Close, who made his second career start. “We put some pressure on them in the third and carried the play for most of it but there were a few mistakes and a few lulls we had, and we can’t afford to have them.”

Lucius scored on the opening shift of the third period to make it a one-goal game again but they would get no closer despite out-shooting Alaska 14-2 in the final 20 minutes.

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Perhaps the biggest blow for the Gophers came in the third period when they were on a power play. McLaughlin was whistled for cross checking, and given a major penalty and a game misconduct.

“Bad penalty at the end, we chased the game and we did enough (that) we deserved to lose the game tonight,” Motzko said.

There was a scrum at the end of the game with nearly 50 minutes in penalties handed out after the final horn. The Gophers are at home versus Big Ten-leading Michigan next weekend.

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Alaska 3, Minnesota 2

Minnesota 0-1-1—2

Alaska 1-2-0—3

First period — 1. AK, Filip Fornaa Svensson 5 (Didrik Henbrandt, Brady Risk), 0:59. 2. MN, Matthew Knies 8 (Ben Meyers, Ben Brinkman), 18:53. Penalties — Riley Murphy, AK (roughing), 4:22; Henbrandt, AK (tripping), 13:02.

Second period — 2. MN, Blake McLaughlin 7 (Matt Staudacher), 5:33. 3. AK, Brayden Nicholetts 2 (Matt McKim), 5:56. 4. AK, Markus Komuls 2 (Murphy, Jordan Muzzillo), 17:59. Penalties — Chaz Lucius, MN (tripping), 0:30; Chase DuBois, AK (tripping), 0:49; Antti Virtanen, AK (tripping), 8:19.

Third period — 5. MN, Lucius 8 (Jackson LaCombe, Matthew Knies), 0:18. Penalties — Murphy, AK (boarding), 5:38; Arvils Bergmanis, AK (interference), 11:57; Roberts Kalkis, AK (roughing), 12:39; Knies, MN (roughing), 12:39; McLaughlin, MN (5-cross checking & game misconduct), 13:12; Henbrandt, AK (holding), 13:43; Mike Koster, MN (roughing) 20:00; Koster, MN (cross checking) 20:00; Knies, MN (5-facemasking & game misconduct) 20:00; Henbrandt, AK (5-facemasking & game misconduct) 20:00; Risk, AK (5-fighting & game disqualification), 20:00.

Shots on goal — MN 12-12-14—38; AK 7-6-2—15. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (15 shots-12 saves); Gustavs Grigals, AK (38-36). Power plays — MN 0-of-7, AK 0-of-2. Referees — David Marcotte, Kenny Anderson. Linesmen — Nicholas Bradshaw, Samuel Shikowsky. Att. — 8,083.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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