By Jess Myers
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Some holiday wishes are simple ones. No injuries, no overtime, and an end to a winless streak. In their final game before the holiday break, all those Minnesota Gophers hockey wishes came true.
Brent Gates Jr. scored with 101 seconds left in the third period as the Gophers closed out the season’s first half with a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, Dec. 8.
After building an early 2-0 lead, the Gophers (5-6-4 overall, 3-2-3-0 Big Ten) got third period goals from Gates and Tyler Sheehy to snap a four-game winless streak. Goalie Mat Robson, making his fourth consecutive start, had a season-high 50 saves.
“This has been a crazy high, high, low, low first half, but I was reminded that we’ve only lost one game in our last seven,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, noting the team’s 3-1-3 record of late. “Our staff was talking before the game about if we could just get a signature win, especially on a night like tonight, that could be something we could take home with us.”
The Wolverines (6-7-4, 2-4-4-2) led 3-2 after two but saw their winless streak reach six games as they were unable to convert on six power plays.
Gates, the only Michigan native on the Gophers roster, re-directed a shot from the blue line from Jack Sadek for the game-winner.
“We’re hanging around in games. That’s a good thing. That’s a step forward,” Gates said. “This last one, to be able to find a way to pull out a win late in the game, all that does is build confidence. … We didn’t really have a game to draw back on until now.”
The action started immediately on Saturday, with Robson thwarting Michigan’s Brendan Warren on a breakaway in the opening minute. Ben Brinkman’s turnover led to Warren’s solo rush to the Gophers net but the Gophers defenseman recovered and started a play heading the other way, which ended when Brannon McManus fooled Michigan goalie Strauss Mann between the pads for a lead just 68 seconds into the game.
Two shifts later McManus’ line clicked again, with Tyler Nanne feeding McManus for a point blank shot at the left of the Michigan net. Mann made the pad save, but the rebound slid right to the top of the crease where Sampo Ranta popped it into the wide open net for a 2-0 lead, prompting Wolverines coach Mel Pearson to use an early timeout to regroup his team.
It worked, as Michigan answered twice to tie the game before the first period was half over. Nick Pastujov beat Robson with a backhand shot to complete a 2-on-1 break for their first goal, and his brother Michael Pastujov banked a shot off two Gophers and into the net for a 2-2 deadlock.
Michigan took the lead on a Josh Norris goal in the second after Robson fumbled a puck behind the net and was caught out of position. It was a rare hiccup for Robson, who held his team in the game for long stretches.
“Just typical Robbie tonight. He’s definitely the best goalie I’ve ever played with,” McManus said. “You want him on your team, and he’s probably frustrating for the other team. He’s the heart and soul of our team right now.”
Sheehy pulled the Gophers even in the opening minute of the third, beating Mann from the left side of the net.
“Gritty effort by Minnesota, and we’re making every goalie look like he’s an All American right now,” said a frustrated Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “That’s how it goes sometimes. And our power play has to produce. We can’t go 0-for-6.”
Mann finished with 24 saves for the Wolverines, who are 0-2-4 in their last six. The Gophers now have a 20-day break, returning to action on Friday, Dec. 28, when they host Ferris State.