ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Playing prep hockey for Edina, Jimmy Clark said he learned to love being on the team that everyone in the audience hated. Perhaps that experience served the Minnesota Gophers rookie well in his first trip to Yost Ice Arena — known as one of the most hostile places for visiting teams in all of college hockey.
Clark scored late in the second period and again in the third as the Gophers rallied from a two-goal deficit and beat Michigan 4-3 on Friday in one of their biggest road tests of the season.
The Gophers (5-3-1 overall, 1-2-0-0 Big Ten) got their first conference win thanks in large part to a 37-save performance from goalie Justen Close. Bryce Brodzinski got Minnesota on the board after it trailed less than two minutes into the game, and Brody Lamb netted the game-winner with 3:28 to play. Gophers coach Bob Motzko admitted that Close may have stolen the game for Minnesota, which was dominated by the Wolverines for long stretches of the game.
“Every once in a while it’s called ‘highway robbery’ and we got away with one tonight,” Motzko said in a postgame press conference. “We were doing fine until we took our penalties and that reared its head. They got the 3-1 lead and we were not good until Jimmy Clark gets a big goal. …That gave us a game again. Without that there was no game.”
Michigan fell to 5-5-1 overall and 1-3-1-0 in the conference despite getting goals from Frank Nazar, Rutger McGroarty and Dylan Duke. The Wolverines took a 3-1 lead into the final seconds of the middle period before Clark started Minnesota’s comeback.
“It’s huge to show the team we were in this game and we can beat these guys,” Clark said. “It might not have been our best night, but we can get it done and that’s what we did.”
All week, Motzko had warned his team about the danger of taking penalties versus the Wolverines, who have the nation’s most dangerous power play. And then, in the second period, the Gophers did just what the coach had warned them against. Duke and McGroarty scored man-advantage goals, and the Wolverines took a commanding lead at home.
Minnesota’s best chance to get back into the game in the second came when Michigan’s Mark Estapa was ejected for contact to the head on Gophers forward John Mittelstadt. But Michigan stood firm and killed the five-minute major penalty.
But Clark started the rally in the final seconds of the period, getting his second collegiate goal, then knotted it in the third, finishing off a rush to the net with Connor Kurth. Lamb’s game-winner gave him his first three-point game as a collegian. The Gophers closed it out despite a frantic Michigan push with goalie Jacob Barczewski on the bench.
“Our D core did a great job those last five minutes, good sticks, taking bodies and kept them off the score sheet,” Lamb said.
Barczewski finished with 23 saves for Michigan, which has now lost three in a row.
The Gophers were without center Aaron Huglen, who was ill all week and did not make the trip to Michigan. It was the second year in a row that he has missed the road games versus the Wolverines due to illness.
With freshman goalie Nathan Airey still not at full health and unable to travel to Michigan, the Gophers have officially added sophomore Matt Bryant to the roster. Originally from La Crosse, Wis., Bryant skated for the U’s club team last year and was officially listed as their third goalie on Friday, behind Close and sophomore Zach Wiese.
John Mittelstadt, who wears No. 19, left the game in the second period after he was bloodied by the high hit from Estapa. The Gophers forward returned to the game in the third period wearing a No. 25 jersey with no nameplate on the back, as his regular jersey was bloodied in the collision.
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