Top-ranked Gophers use late-game heroics to sink North Dakota's upset bid
Trailing by a goal with 90 seconds left, the Minnesota Gophers shocked archrival North Dakota, getting a late goal to tie and a winner on the first shift of overtime.
MINNEAPOLIS — If there is a knock on Minnesota Gophers star forward Matthew Knies, it’s that from time to time, he tries to do too much with the puck. When they are playing five-on-five, teams can find ways to clog up the ice in front of Knies and limit his offensive effectiveness.
But when a game goes to overtime, and there is all that extra space with the teams playing three-on-three, Knies has been given the green light to do whatever he wants. On Friday, that mean providing a dramatic overtime winner for the latest amazing chapter in the Gophers’ decades-old rivalry with neighbor North Dakota.
Knies scored just 21 seconds into the extra session, spinning past Fighting Hawks defender Chris Jandric and stuffing the puck under goalie Drew DeRidder, as the top-ranked Gophers completed an unlikely comeback, for a 3-2 win.
“He is one big, strong dude. When he bears down, that’s what he can do,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko of Knies, a sophomore from Arizona. “He tries to do too much throughout the game one-on-one, but there, three-on-three, you can do that.”
MATTHEW KNIES CALLED GAME!!!! pic.twitter.com/jbsclGJP0D— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) October 22, 2022
Minnesota (4-1-0) trailed with less than 90 seconds left in regulation, but got a tying goal from Mason Nevers with an extra attacker on the ice to force overtime.
The comeback thwarted a brilliant night from Fighting Hawks goalie Drew DeRidder, who had 35 saves in the loss.
“He battled for us all night and we’ve got to give him credit for that. He’s our goalie and we love him,” said North Dakota center Jake Schmaltz, who scored the first goal of the game. “We’ve got to be better for him there in the last couple minutes, because he really played a great game.”
He is one big, strong dude. When he bears down, that’s what he can do.
It was DeRidder’s first game in Minneapolis with the Hawks, but it was a familiar setting for the transfer from Michigan State, who had faced the Gophers a half-dozen times with the Spartans.
Jackson LaCombe had the first goal for Minnesota (4-1-0) while goalie Justen Close had 16 saves.
Schmaltz and Riese Gaber scored for the Hawks (2-2-1), who are ranked seventh in the nation in the latest polls.
North Dakota held onto a 1-0 lead until the final two minutes of the middle period, when LaCombe showed off his stick skills with a pretty backhander that beat DeRidder and caught the inside of the far post, finally giving the sellout crowd a chance to explode.
The deadlock was short-lived, as Jaxon Nelson went to the penalty box, and Riese Gaber’s power play shot through a crowd hit the back of the net in the second period’s final minute, giving North Dakota a 2-1 lead at the second intermission.
LaCombe was a good forward until late in his youth hockey career when, while playing for the famed prep school program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, he was converted to defense and saw his game blossom.
It was pretty funny, honestly. There were almost two student sections kind of yelling back and forth at each other. It was so much fun. Such a lively barn to play in.
Now in his senior season of college hockey, LaCombe has been picked in the second round of the NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, has overcome a bad habit of turning the puck over, has been named an All-American once and has grown into a lock-down defender for the Gophers.
But now and then, those offensive instincts are on display, like when he curled toward the Hawks net with the puck on his stick and flipped a low shot that tied the game.
“There wasn’t much to it. I was trying to make a good play down low and their forwards got a little confused when I cut across,” LaCombe said. “There was a wide open lane down low so I just took a shot and it happened to go in.”
Motzko was quick to praise LaCombe’s complete game, not only scoring the goal, but using his 6-foot-2 frame to play a shutdown role around Close at times too.
“He’s capable of doing that a lot,” Motzko said. “He’s just been fantastic. I can’t say enough about our d-corps.”
Never say Nevers
Close headed to the bench with less than 90 seconds on the clock and the Gophers trailing by a goal. In his stead, Nevers took the shortest route to the offensive zone. The junior forward from Edina had been on the ice barely five seconds when a pass from defenseman Mike Koster reached him. Nevers rerouted the puck past DeRidder and overtime was inevitable.
“Nevers was our best player tonight, just working his tail off, rewarded. We put him out there and he scores right away,” Motzko said. “I couldn’t be happier … There’s an upperclassman stepping up.”
It was the second goal Nevers has scored this season, and his second in as many games. Having spent part of his freshman year in and out of the lineup, he has seen a notable jump in responsibility and production this season.
“What a goal by ‘Nevy’ there. That set the tone. I think we were battling for those goals and to get that one late, going to overtime, that definitely gave us momentum,” Knies said. “He’s just a workhorse. Always battling for pucks in front of the net. That’s his best position … He’s definitely shown that he’s a leader on this team.”
The Gophers were 0-3 on the power play but just missed a tying goal in the third period when Logan Cooley’s shot from the right faceoff circle hit the post behind DeRidder and bounced wide. “Our power play, we’re forcing everything. When you force it, it doesn’t work,” Motzko said.
Healthy scratches for Sunday’s game for the Gophers were defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish and forwards Colin Schmidt and John Mittelstadt.
The announced attendance of 10,418 was one of the 10 largest crowds in the history of 3M Arena at Mariucci, which opened in 1993. A few thousand of them were North Dakota fans, making for a raucous atmosphere. “It was pretty funny, honestly. There were almost two student sections kind of yelling back and forth at each other,” Knies said. “It was so much fun. Such a lively barn to play in.”
The series concludes at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. It will be North Dakota’s final game in Minneapolis until at the earliest the 2025-26 season, when they expect to resume this rivalry after a one-year pause.
Minnesota 3, North Dakota 2, OT
North Dakota 1-1-0—2
First period — 1. ND, Jake Schmaltz 2 (Ty Farmer), 4:23. Penalties — Tyler Kleven, ND (slashing), 15:22.
Second period — 2. MN, Jackson LaCombe 1 (Ryan Johnson, Matthew Knies), 18:37. 3. ND, Riese Gaber 4 (Chris Jandric, Schmaltz), 19:24, (PP). Penalties — Cooper Moore, ND (high sticking), 10:16; Jaxon Nelson, MN (hooking), 18:47.
Third period — 4. MN, Mason Nevers 2 (Mike Koster, Jimmy Snuggerud), 18:36, (EA). Penalties — Aaron Huglen, MN (tripping), 3:05; Jackson Blake ND (hooking), 10:10.
Overtime — 5. MN, Knies 3 (Brock Faber, Logan Cooley), 0:21. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MN 8-15-14-1—38; ND 7-7-4-0—18. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (18 shots-16 saves); Drew DeRidder, ND (38-35). Power plays — MN 0-of-3, ND 1-of-2. Referees — Joseph Carusone, Sean Fernandez. Linesmen — Nicholas Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky. Att. — 10,418.