Current and future Gophers stand out in exhibition win over US National U-18s
Future Gophers forward Oliver Moore had a goal and an assist for Team USA, which made a push but came up short vs. Minnesota in an exhibition game, played with an enthusiastic crowd on hand.
MINNEAPOLIS — If the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team was hoping to skate off the rust from the Christmas break on Thursday afternoon, they needed just 64 seconds to seemingly get their groove back.
Rhett Pitlick got the first of his two goals on the opening shift as the Gophers beat the US National U-18 team 3-2 in an afternoon exhibition game before an announced crowd of 8,593.
Matthew Knies scored a goal and set up a second one by Pitlick in the win, as the Gophers faced game conditions for the first time since they beat Wisconsin on Dec. 10 to close out the first half of the season. Goalies Justen Close and Owen Bartoszkiewicz both played roughly half of the game, combining for 27 saves and each allowing a goal.
“I think we all got rejuvenated from the break and now that we’re coming back, I think we’re coming back strong, with chemistry,” said Pitlick, who joked that he may have pushed a bit too hard in the third period, trying to complete the hat trick.
And when Team USA scored, even that came with a bit of silver lining. Forward Oliver Moore, who is from Mounds View, Minn., and will likely play for the Gophers next season, slipped a puck between Close’s left skate and the post for the visitors’ first reason to celebrate.
“I think I might’ve gotten lucky. It might have hit one of their skates and went in,” said Moore, who last played at 3M Arena at Mariucci when he skated in the Mounds View/Irondale youth hockey system. “It’s unbelievable. As a kid you kind of dream of coming here and playing for the Gophers one day. Being able to go out on Mariucci ice and play there is a surreal experience.”
While the Gophers’ game was going on, Knies’ two regular linemates — Jimmy Snuggerud and Logan Cooley — were playing and scoring for the Americans in a 5-1 win over Switzerland played in Canada as part of the 2023 World Juniors.
“Good day for the Gophers. Snuggie’s got two, Cooley’s got one, Oliver Moore got one. Gophers got a win. Pretty good day for the Gophers so far,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, adding that it was good to get the rust off.
Moore assisted on Team USA’s second goal, with less than two minutes to play and goalie Carsen Musser on the bench for an extra attacker.
“I didn’t like our first period, but we know coming in here that this is a premiere hockey team, the top team in college hockey,” Team USA coach Dan Muse said. “We knew it was going to be a tough test. We were a little bit tentative there and a lot of credit to Minnesota and the way they play.”
Musser, who is from the small southern Minnesota town of Sherburn, finished with 29 saves.
The game started at 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, at the same time as the Gophers football team was winning the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City. Still, there were hundreds of youth hockey players at the rink for the annual Skate with the Gophers, held after the game, which made for an enthusiastic crowd.
The only available healthy scratch for the Gophers on Thursday was junior defensemen Matt Staudacher, who is planning to redshirt this season. Defenseman Carl Fish and forward Colin Schmidt, who had not played previously this season, were both in the lineup.
Team USA forward Beckett Hendrickson, who is from Minnetonka and will play for the Gophers next season, had a considerable cheering section. His uncle, Danny, a former Gophers forward, said roughly 50 friends and relatives were in attendance. That included Beckett’s father, Darby, also a former Gopher and the 1991 Mr. Hockey winner from Richfield, who had to rush to get to his real job as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Wild. The NHL club hosted Dallas on Thursday evening in St. Paul.
The Gophers next exhibition game is Saturday night at Bemidji State. They return to games that count a week later, visiting St. Cloud State on Jan. 7 for the first of two in a home-and-home nonconference series with the Huskies.
Minnesota 3, Team USA 2
Team USA 1-0-1—2
First period — 1. MIN, Rhett Pitlick (Jackson LaCombe), 1:04. 2. USA, Oliver Moore (Danny Nelson, Zeev Buium), 10:44. 3. MIN, Matthew Knies (Bryce Brodzinski, Brock Faber), 17:37. 4. MIN, Pitlick (Knies), 16:47, (SH). Penalties — Will Smith, USA (hooking), 4:01; Colin Schmidt, MIN (roughing), 10:44; Aaron Huglen, MIN (holding the stick), 15:40.
Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Schmidt, MIN (elbowing), 11:58.
Third period — 5. USA, Will Vote (Moore, Gabe Perrault), 18:08, (EA). Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MIN 16-6-10—32; USA 8-11-10—29. Goalies — Justen Close, MIN (11 shots-10 saves); Owen Bartoszkiewicz, MIN (18-17); Carsen Musser, USA (32-29). Power plays — MIN 0-for-1, USA 0-for-3. Referees — David Marcotte, Kenny Anderson. Linesmen — Mike Daltrey, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — 8,593.