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Unsatisfying split as Gophers fall in NoDak finale

Out-worked for the first 45 minutes of their series finale at North Dakota, the Minnesota Gophers mounted a furious rally that fell just short on Saturday, leaving their coach still looking for a full two-game effort in a weekend.

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a UND defender works to clear the puck away as goalie Zach Driscoll and Minnesota's Chaz Lucius eye the puck Saturday at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Playing two games on the road before a hostile, sold-out audience, many people would be satisfied with a split. After the Minnesota Gophers mounted a furious late rally on Saturday, but fell just short at North Dakota, their coach was anything but pleased.

Trailing by three goals in the third period, the Gophers scored on a power play and with their goalie pulled, but could not draw even, falling 3-2 in the finale of their non-conference meeting with the Fighting Hawks.

Gophers coach Bob Motzko was unsatisfied in his team’s overall effort, which featured just 13 shots on goal.

“Disappointed in how we came prepared to play tonight,” Motzko said, after his team fell to 9-7-0 overall. “That’s the nuts and bolts of it.”

In recent weeks, the Gophers had gone 0-3 on Fridays, in three games where they held a lead, then had bounced back to win on Saturday. This weekend, versus their historical neighborhood rivals, was the photo negative, with a dominating 5-1 win on Friday, and then struggles on Saturday.

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“Exactly what’s happened to us recently, we lose on Friday and we’re ornery and we don’t smile and we come Saturday ready to play and we’ve got a little thunder under us,” he said. “We just got it handed back to us tonight. It was just hard work. That’s all (North Dakota) did, and in the third period we finally played.”

Trailing 3-0 with less than 15 minutes to play, the Gophers got a power play goal by Ben Meyers to end North Dakota goalie Zach Driscoll’s shutout bid. And with Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine on the bench, freshman forward Chaz Lucius got his second goal of the weekend to create some drama. But the Fighting Hawks closed it out, improving to 10-5-0.

“It was just a slow start, and just now what we needed,” said Meyers. “It took us too long to find our legs, and by the time we got going in the third, it was too late.”

LaFontaine finished with 23 saves in the loss, while Driscoll was called upon to stop 11 Gophers shots. Mark Senden had two goals and an assist for the Hawks, who are a team that feeds off the energy of their enthusiastic home crowd, and got the boost they needed early on Saturday.

They scored on their first shot of the game when Senden’s low shot banked off the skate of Gavin Hain, who was positioned just outside the crease.

They doubled their lead on a second period power play when Senden, a senior from the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, fooled LaFontaine with a wrist shot from the high slot. On the play, Gophers forward Blake McLaughlin took a frustration penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and was lost for the next 10 minutes.

Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko spoke to the media following his team's 3-2 loss at North Dakota on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

The Gophers finally got things going in the third when North Dakota’s Connor Ford took a slashing penalty and Meyers scored 10 seconds later.

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“We practice those one-timers a lot,” said Meyers, who caught a pass from defenseman Jackson LaCombe and blasted it just inside the right post. “We just needed pucks on net.”

LaFontaine came to the bench with nearly four minutes on the clock, and Lucius cleaned up a scramble at the North Dakota crease for his third collegiate goal.

“Benny passed it to (Sammy Walker), Walks was driving hard. I put my butt to the back post and found a way to get it in,” said Lucius, who missed six games early in the season due to injury. “I think for a lot of the game we lost that edge we played with the first night, so as we continued to go we need to get that back.”

The Gophers return to Big Ten play next weekend with a series at Michigan.

North Dakota 3, Minnesota 2

Minnesota 0-0-2—2

North Dakota 1-1-1—3

First period — 1. UND, Gavin Hain 3 (Mark Senden, Jake Schmaltz), 3:27. Penalties — Blake McLauhglin, MIN (hooking), 8:17; Ben Meyers, MIN (cross checking), 15:57; Hain, UND (embellishment), 15:57.

Second period — 2. UND, Senden 2 (Louis Jamernik, Schmaltz), 13:37, (pp). Penalties — Mike Koster, MIN (holding the stick), 12:23; McLaughlin, MIN (10-unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:37; Griffin Ness, UND (boarding), 16:32.

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Third period — 3. UND, Senden 3 (Connor Ford, Jake Sanderson), 5:53. 4. MIN, Ben Meyers 5 (Jackson LaCombe, Chaz Lucius), 7:35, (pp). 5. MIN, Lucius 3 (Sammy Walker, Meyers), 16:30, (ea). Penalties — Tristan Broz, MIN (roughing), 6:44; Ness, UND (roughing), 6:44; Ford, UND (slashing), 7:25.

Shots on goal — MIN 4-2-7—13; UND 9-11-6—26. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MIN (26 shots-23 saves); Zach Driscoll, UND (13-11). Power plays — MIN 1-of-2, UND 1-of-2. Referees — Nick Krebsbach, Ryan Hersey. Linesmen — Justin Hills, Tyler Liffrig. Att. — 11,617.

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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