Gophers give Michigan the full Nelson to sweep weekend series

Jaxon Nelson scored twice and rookie goalie Owen Bartoszkiewicz put in a strong performance for a 6-3 win and a weekend sweep of the Wolverines.

Minnesota's Matthew Knies (left) and Jimmy Snuggerud celebrated at first period goal by Rhett Pitlick in the Gophers' road win versus Michigan on Friday, November 18, 2022 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Contributed / Julia Schachinger / Big Ten Hockey

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Playing with a bit of a makeshift lineup due to sickness and suspension, the Minnesota Gophers weren’t looking for excuses on Friday at Michigan. They were looking for a sweep.

Via a pair of goals by Jaxon Nelson and a strong performance from rookie goalie Owen Bartoszkiewicz, they cleaned up nicely, taking a commanding lead on the Wolverines on the way to a 6-3 win.

"I thought we were a lot more disciplined tonight. We tried to stay out of the (penalty) box and when we got in the box, we killed them off," Nelson said. "Staying on top of them. (Friday) night after getting punched in the mouth on (Thursday) night at home you're going to have some pushback so I thought we handled it well and took it to them."

Rhett Pitlick, Matthew Knies, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe added goals for the Gophers (10-4-0 overall, 6-2-0 Big Ten) who have won six of their last seven games. Bartoszkiewicz had 35 saves for his third career win.

Michigan got a controversial second-period goal from Dylan Duke, but once again had limited bodies available due to an illness which has decimated their lineup and could not keep up with Minnesota. The Wolverines fell to 9-5-0 overall and 2-4-0 in the conference.


LaCombe was a forward well into his teens until switching to defense full time while playing prep hockey for Shattuck-St. Mary’s. With Logan Cooley suspended by the Big Ten for one game, Cooley took a shift at forward in the first period between Matthew Knies and Jimmy Snuggerud, and promptly popped a rising shot over Michigan goalie Erik Portillo’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead.

"Guys stepped up. Our new left winger scores on his first shift, and that was a critical goal because Michigan had a great push right off the bat and then Jackson took care of that with a monster goal," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said.

Pitlick doubled the lead when he and Knies got behind the Wolverines defense for a 2-on-0 breakaway, with Knies pulling Portillo to the left, then passing to the right where Pitlick was open with lots of net to hit. It was the third goal of the weekend by Pitlick.

Nelson scored on a power play and on a delayed penalty with an extra attacker on the ice for his third and fourth goals of the season. Michigan got on the board on a play in front of the Minnesota net that was not initially ruled a goal, but counted after a review despite no clear video of the puck crossing the goal line. The Gophers challenged the play for too many men on the ice, as replays showed Michigan changing lines with possibly as many as seven players on the rink, but the play was allowed to stand.

Duke and Mackie Samoskevich scored in the third for the Wolverines, while Nelson nearly completed the hat trick, assisting on Knies’ goal on a power play. Johnson scored into an empty net from beyond the far blue line for the clincher.

Portillo finished with 28 saves for the Wolverines, who host Harvard next weekend.

Minnesota's Charlie Strobel fought for open ice while sandwiched between a pair of Michigan defenders in the first period of the Gophers win over the Wolverines on Friday, November 18, 2022 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Contributed / Big Ten Hockey

Desperation means defensive shift

LaCombe admitted that it had been at least six years since he had played a regular shift as a forward. But with two centers out and the Knies-Jimmy Snuggrud line needing a third forward, Motzko was looking for volunteers.


“Before the game I asked if he’d take a few shifts at forward. He just got a big grin on his face and said yes,” Motzko said, with a grin. “He wanted to play center though. But we moved Knies to center … I can’t say enough about how guys stepped up tonight.”

LaCombe may go down statistically as the top forward in Gopher history, having played one shift there and scoring one goal, but he admitted it wasn’t easy.

“I didn’t know what to do on the wall, to be honest with you, but I only had one shift, so there wasn’t too much to learn,” he said. “They’re a great team but it’s a big building block for our team to be able to figure it out for two games in a row. No matter who we have playing or who they have playing, it’s important.”

On a night when all hands were needed to get a crucial Big Ten win, teammates raved about LaCombe’s willingness to step up, and his impact when he did, even if it was just one shift.

“He was the man for the job, and he was ready to go,” Nelson said.

Two early goals by Logan Cooley set the tone for a game that looked lopsided on paper and on ice. The Gophers scored early and often to build a big lead, then played defense to win decisively.
Back home again after six consecutive road games, the Minnesota Gophers are playing penalty-free hockey as they face a Wisconsin Badgers team that started the season slowly but has won five of six.
St. Cloud State is officially ranked in the national polls this week, the first time since 2009. Minnesota State still lurks outside of the top-15 and receives votes.
After a road sweep where they never trailed, defensive and offensive standouts for the Gophers were recognized with the Big Ten's first and second stars of the week.
The Rink Live reporters look back at the NCHC series between the Fighting Hawks and Huskies, Colorado College at Minnesota Duluth; Big 10 series between Gophers, Spartans; WCHA series with UMD,
Team USA will be looking for its six medal in the past eight years when the best young players gather in Canada later this month for the 2023 World Junior Championships. Five with ties to the
Team USA will face our neighbors from the north in games played in the Las Vegas area and in Southern California later this month. The Gophers will not miss any of their college games as a result.
Controlling the play for long stretches, the Minnesota Gophers built a four-goal lead then withstood a Michigan State rally in the third period to close their six-game road trip with a 5-1-0 mark.
The goalie stood strong early and the offense took over late as the Minnesota Gophers beat an upstart Michigan State team for the 10th time in a row, opening up a close contest late for their most
After using a racial slur during a game, Kamil Sadlocha is still a Buckeye, but no timetable or process for his reinstatement has been set. Also, former Spartan and Badger standouts are honored by
Michigan State has a new coach, a new attitude and a familiar name in goal, but don't tell the Spartans that it's a big deal to have Minnesota -- ranked atop one national poll -- visiting this
There were long stretches of offensive dominance, and just enough mistakes to cost them as Minnesota lost a late lead, and the game, to snap a four-game winning streak.

Extra pucks

Defenseman Matt Staudacher was a healthy scratch on Friday. Center Aaron Huglen was out with an illness. Goalie Justen Close, who missed Thursday’s game due to illness, was in uniform but did not play.

At the first intermission, Michigan honored longtime equipment manager Ian Hume, who died of prostate cancer at age 64 on Oct. 20. He worked with the Wolverines hockey program for 33 years.


The Gophers next stay on the road with their first hockey trip to the desert. They will face Arizona State in a pair of games at the new Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona, on Nov. 25-26.

Johnson’s first career goal was also an empty-netter, also versus Michigan.

Minnesota 6, Michigan 3

Minnesota 2-2-2—6

Michigan 0-1-2—3

First period — 1. MN, Jackson LaCombe 4 (Luke Mittelstadt), 9:13. 2, MN, Rhett Pitlick 4 (Matthew Knies, Jimmy Snuggerud), 12:43. Penalties — Ryan Chesley, MN (holding), 2:15.

Second period — 3. MN, Jaxon Nelson 4 (Snuggerud, Bryce Brodzinski), 4:37, (PP). 4. MI, Dylan Duke 8 (Mark Estapa, Seamus Casey), 13:26. 5. MN, Nelson 4 (Knies, Brock Faber), 17:54, (EA). Penalties — Luke Hughes, MI (cross checking), 3:23; Garrett Pinoniemi, MN (slashing), 6:02; Ethan Edwards, MI (holding), 17:54.

Third period — 6. MI, Duke 9 (Hughes, Estapa), 8:22. 7. MN, Knies 8 (Nelson, LaCombe), 10:43, (PP). 8. MI, Mackie Samoskevich 11 (Edwards, Casey), 11:07. 9. MN, Ryan Johnson 1 (unassisted), 17:18, (EN). Penalties — Jackson Hallum, MI (cross checking), 9:42; Brady Lamb, MN (slashing), 19:30.

Shots on goal — MN 7-16-11—34 MI 15-11-12—38. Goalies — Owen Bartoszkiewicz, MN (38 shots-35 saves); Erik Portillo, MI (34-28). Power plays — MN 2-of-3, MI 0-of-3. Referees — Joseph Carusone, Brett Sheva. Linesmen — Bill Hancock, Jake Davis. Att. — 5,800.

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, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
What to read next
One of only three goalies to win college hockey's highest honor, Miller retired with more NHL wins than any American goalie in history.
Playing in what may be his professional home someday, Gophers rookie Logan Cooley put on a show, while Justen Close made an emphatic return from illness as Minnesota survived a strong challenge from
One of the Knies boys from Phoenix will finally play a game in Arizona after the family hosts the team and dozens of others for Thanksgiving dinner, while a future Coyote visits the place he hopes
Ranked second in this week's national polls, the Minnesota Gophers' focus as they head into a nonconference series with Arizona State is to enjoy Thanksgiving, get some sun and win a pair of games