Taylor Matson is two years older than Nate Condon and is set to graduate in May, but the two do everything together.
Off the ice, they are roommates and spend just about every day with each other. On the ice, Condon and Matson couldn’t escape one another if they tried.
They play together on the third line, the power play and the penalty kill — the latter has become their specialty this season, and they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.
“It’s crazy,” Matson said. “I think we have more chances on the penalty kill than five-on-five or [on the] power play.”
“It’s something we take to heart when we’re out there, and we just work really hard in practice together throughout the week,” he said.
Minnesota’s penalty kill unit has been its saving grace this season, as the power play has struggled lately.
The Gophers have the second-best penalty kill unit in the WCHA, which has killed off 75 of 89 opponents’ power play chances this season.
Minnesota boasts an 84.3 percent penalty-kill percentage this year, but simply keeping the other team from scoring when down a man is not enough for Condon and Matson.
Their collective mentality is to force a turnover and get up the ice quickly against often-unsuspecting opponents.
“There are a lot of times where [the other team will] just have one guy at the blue line or sometimes they’ll just be out of the play completely,” Condon said. “We want to get out of the zone, get going and then there’s always a chance that we can hit someone for a breakaway.”
Matson and Condon played together last season, but this year, they’ve taken another step forward.
Both have already surpassed their point totals from last season and have added shorthanded strikes to their repertoires.
Condon leads the WCHA with five shorthanded points this season (four goals and an assist).
Matson is tied for third with three shorthanded points (one goal, two assists).
“They have great anticipation, they have great speed [and] they pounce on a loose puck to generate that shorthanded scoring opportunity,” head coach Don Lucia said. “They’ve done a really good job penalty killing for us.
“We have a lot of confidence in them, and if they’re fresh, they’re the two that [are] going to start the penalty kill for us.”
Matson said the two take pride in their defense on the penalty kill, but it’s their speed that produces scoring chances.
“We know when one of us gets the puck, the other is going hard for the breakaway,” Matson said. “We have great speed. That’s one of our advantages out there, so it becomes huge on the penalty kill.”
Despite the camaraderie, the sophomore didn’t mind taking a jab at his senior captain.
“I think that straight up I could probably beat him in a footrace,” Condon said. “But if it came to anything endurance-wise, he’d crush me because I know he’d never stop.”
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