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Michigan roars back to beat Gophers, earn series split

Trailing early in their Saturday rematch at Minnesota, the Michigan Wolverines scored twice in 62 seconds on the way to their fifth win in the past six games.

Gophers Michigan
Minnesota Gophers defenseman Carl Fish and Michigan Wolverines forward Brendan Brisson battled for a loose puck in the first period of their game at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.
Harrison Barden / University of Minnesota Athletics
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In 2002 and again in 2003, the Minnesota Gophers had to get past Michigan to win their two most recent NCAA hockey titles. On a night when those championship teams from two decades ago were honored, it became clear that the road to the 2022 national crown could mean another date with the Wolverines down the road.

On Saturday, Jan. 22, the modern version of the Wolverines rallied from an early deficit for a decisive 4-1 win over the Gophers, to hold onto a share of first place in the Big Ten standings.

An early goal by Bryce Brodzinski gave the Gophers a lead, but the Wolverines stormed back and earned a split of the weekend series. Justen Close had 15 saves for Minnesota (14-10-0 overall, 9-5-0 Big Ten) which is six points back of co-leaders Michigan and Ohio State, but had two games in hand on both the Wolverines and Buckeyes.

"We kind of thought in the first couple periods we were taking it to them," said Gophers forward Blake McLaughlin, who assisted on their only goal, and took their only penalty. "I think coach put it best in the locker room. He said they had four chances and their top guys buried on their four chances. Other than that, we didn't give them much."

Trailing 1-0, the Wolverines (19-7-1, 10-6-0) got goals 62 seconds apart from Brendan Brisson and Matty Berniers to take a lead they would not relinquish. The Gophers mounted rush after rush, only to be repeatedly thwarted by Michigan goalie Erik Portillo, who had 39 saves in the win. Michael Pastujov added a second period goal for the Wolverines, who have now won five of their last six contests.

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"We made three mistakes tonight. They scored on them. Portillo was awful good, and we played a heck of a game," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We made three poor decisions coming back, and that was it."

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Sammy Walker briefly appeared to make it 3-2 in the third period, but officials immediately called no-goal, as Walker had batted the puck with his hand. A short time later, Michigan defenseman Nick Blankenburg made it 4-1.

"We have game-changers. You can see that, and when you give them any opportunity, they're going to make you pay for it," said Michigan coach Mel Pearson, who praised the Gophers. "The first 10 minutes they were really good, but they are a good team. I picked them to finush first in the Big Ten, because of all the reasons — their depth, their experience and everything."

Bordzinski’s goal tied him for the team lead with 10. The Gophers won the series opener 2-1 in overtime on Friday. They travel to Notre Dame for a two-game set with the Irish next weekend.

The 2002 Gophers beat Michigan in the Frozen Four semifinal in St. Paul, then won an overtime game with Maine for the NCAA title. They repeated the next year, beating Michigan in overtime in the semifinal in Buffalo, N.Y., then routing New Hampshire in the title game. Current Gophers coach Bob Motzko was an assistant to Don Lucia on both teams.

Asked if, like those teams, these Gophers might be headed for a national tournament meeting with Michigan, Motzko was optimistic.

"Let's hope so," he said.

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Minnesota Gophers defenseman Ben Brinkman raced up ice with the puck in the first period of their game versus the Michigan Wolverines at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.
Harrison Barden / University of Minnesota Athletics

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Michigan 4, Minnesota 1

Minnesota 1-0-0—1

Michigan 2-1-1—4

First period — 1. MINN, Bryce Brodzinski 10 (Blake McLaughlin, Mike Koster), 2:46. 2. MICH, Brendan Brisson 16 (Ethan Edwards, Jimmy Lambert), 14:39. 3. MICH, Matty Beniers 15 (Owen Power, Kent Johnson), 15:41. Penalties — Edwards, MICH (tripping), 5:43.

Second period — 4. MICH, Michael Pastujov 9 (Thomas Bordeleau), 7:00. Penalties — Beniers, MICH (checking from behind), 7:49.

Third period — 5. MICH, Nick Blankenburg 10 (Power, Beniers), 12:22. Penalties — McLaughlin, MINN (boarding), 19:17.

Shots on goal — MINN 15-18-7—40; MICH 7-7-5—19. Goalies — Justen Close, MINN (19 shots-15 saves); Erik Portillo, MICH (40-39). Power plays — MINN 0-of-2, MICH 0-of-1. Referees — Colin Kronforst, Joseph Carusone. Linesmen — Nicholas Bradshaw, Samuel Shikowsky. Att. — 8,046.

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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