MINNEAPOLIS — In praising two of his young defensemen after last weekend’s Minnesota Gophers games, coach Bob Motzko talked about their offense and said Brock Faber and Mike Koster do not necessarily need to provide offense just yet.
Then, like kids who are prone to ignoring authority figures, that pair went out and provided offense anyway.
The first collegiate goal by Faber and a key assist by Koster provided a spark as the Gophers built an early lead and held off Ohio State for a 4-1 on Monday at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Captain Sammy Walker also scored his second goal of the season and goalie Jack LaFontaine, who has played every minute between the pipes so far, had 17 saves for the Gophers (3-0-0 overall, 3-0-0-0-0-0 Big Ten). Playing their first game of the season, the Buckeyes (0-1-0, 0-1-0-0-0-0) started slow and could not overcome the Gophers’ early lead.
"We knew pretty early after seeing them practice for the first couple weeks that they were going to help us a lot this year," said sophomore forward Ben Meyers of the young defensemen. "I don't know if we're too surprised. It's obviously good to have young guys coming into the program that can make an impact right away."
In the opening 20 minutes, the Gophers looked every bit like a team with two wins under its collective belt, while the Buckeyes looked like they were dealing with opening night jitters. The visitors were the aggressors on the first shift, with Eugene Fadyeyev hitting the pipe behind LaFontaine, and Matt Cassidy forcing the Gophers goalie to make the game’s first save. But that would be Ohio State’s only shot of the first period.
The Gophers looked to have taken an early lead when Nathan Burke kicked a puck to his stick and it crossed the goal line, but it was called no goal on the ice and affirmed after a video review.
Instead it was Faber getting Minnesota on the board with a rising shot that beat Buckeyes goalie Tommy Nappier on the glove side. Walker doubled the lead before the period was done, late in a shift when Sampo Ranta got the puck to the net for a Nappier save, but the captain popped in the rebound for his second goal in as many games. Faber stressed the prep work they do before college hockey games, compared to his previous hockey stops.
"College hockey is definitely different, and we're both pretty young and still adjusting, but the adjustment has been all-in-all pretty easy because the coaching staff has been so good to us," said Faber, who skated with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program the past two seasons.
After going more than 25 minutes without a shot, the Buckeyes got some sustained pressure in the second period, and got on the board after a Gophers turnover at the red line spring Ohio State on a 2-on-1 break. But Koster had an answer on a late second period power play. His shot from the blue line was deflected by Bryce Brodzinski on the way to the net and deflected past Nappier. It was Brodzinski's first of the season, and the first assist by Koster.
"They hadn't played a game yet; we had a little bit of an advantage. You saw them get better as the game went on, and they'll be a lot better tomorrow, but overall very pleased with our game tonight," Motzko said. "We turned it over twice on that (Ohio State) goal. There were two turnovers on the same shift in the neutral zone. ...Outside of that I thought we played a really good defensive game tonight."
With the Buckeyes on a late power play and Nappier on the bench, Meyers scored into the empty net from the far blue line to seal the game. It was Meyers’ first of the season, and counted as the team's first shorthanded goal of the season.
"You come out and hit the post on one of the first few shifts, and then you're playing one of the top teams in the country on a big (ice) sheet, and they've got a lot of confidence. It just took us a while," Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said. "I loved the fight in our guys. We're going to compete and we're going to battle and play to the end. That's just who we are. Obviously we've got to keep getting better."
It was the first time the Gophers had played at home on a Monday since 1998. They played the third-place game of the Mariucci Classic on a Monday that year, and unlike this night, Doug Woog's Gophers lost 6-5 to the Buckeyes in that one.
Nappier finished with 23 saves for Ohio State. The teams close out the series on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. CT.
Click here for Jess Myers post-game video recap.
Ohio State 0-1-0—1
First period — 1. MIN, Brock Faber 1 (Ryan Johnson, Jaxon Nelson), 11:22; 2. MIN, Sammy Walker 2 (Sampo Ranta, Brannon McManus), 18:54. Penalties — Jackson LaCombe, MIN (hooking), 3:02.
Second period — 3. OSU, Gustaf Westlund 1 (Ryan O’Connell), 12:56. 4. MIN, Bryce Brodzinski 1 (Mike Koster, Johnson), 15:54, (pp). Penalties — Kamil Sadlocha, OSU (hooking), 3:37; Eugene Fadyeyev, OSU (hooking), 9:19; Jaedon Leslie, OSU (cross checking), 15:20.
Third period — 5. MIN, Ben Meyers 1 (unassisted), 19:04, (sh), (en). Penalties — Scott Reedy, MIN (tripping), 12:30; Johnson, MIN (hooking), 17:39.
Shots on goal — OSU 1-8-9—18; MIN 13-8-6—27. Goalies — Tommy Nappier, OSU (27 shots-23 saves); Jack LaFontaine (18-17). Power plays — OSU 0-of-3; MIN 1-of-3. Referees — Kenneth Anderson, David Marcotte. Linesmen — Jonathan Morrison, Sam Shikowski. Att. — NA.