The Gophers opened their season in quick fashion against the Colorado College Tigers on Friday.
Assisted by Joey Marooney and Garrett Wait, senior captain Tyler Nanne scored just two minutes into the first period. Minnesota was able to maintain the lead until the third period, even with Colorado College outshooting the Gophers all night, but a late three-goal third period charge was too much for the Gophers to overcome, losing 3-2 on Friday.
The Gophers' penalty kill was put to the test throughout the game, with the Tigers getting a man advantage five times. They were able to stop all power play efforts from Colorado College in the first two periods, but the game took a turn after Colorado College's Chris Wilkie scored as a penalty on Jackson Lacombe for roughing expired. The goal marked the beginning of a scoring flurry for both teams, as the score changed from 1-0 to a 2-2 tie in the span of three minutes.
With five minutes remaining, Colorado College was able to secure the first game of the series with a goal from Edina native Ben Copeland.
“It was a crazy first game, you just don’t want to lose it the way we lost it,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko told Gopher Sports. “We just weren’t able to close it out.”
Junior goaltender Jack LaFontaine played all three periods Friday, posting 28 saves.
Saturday's game started much like the first, but this time it was Colorado College that scored in the opening minutes as forward Andrew Gaus netted his first of the season. The Gophers outshot the Tigers in the first period 21-13, but just after a Colorado College power play expired, with three minutes remaining in the period, Wilkie scored his third goal of the weekend to put the Gophers down 2-0.
Coming back in the second period, Minnesota found themselves on the power play. Halfway through the man advantage, sophomore Sampo Ranta scored his first goal of the season and first Minnesota power play goal of the weekend, cutting the Tigers' lead to 2-1.
Ranta nearly scored another as a Minnesota power play ended in the 13th minute, but his shot rang off the pipe. Moments later, Grant Cruikshank scored after exiting the penalty box to extend the Colorado College lead to 3-1.
Minnesota had a chance to chip away at the deficit when Connor Mayer went to the box to give the Gophers another power play with just three minutes left in the period.
Just ten seconds in, captain Sammy Walker scored with assists by Nathan Burke and Brannon McManus. The Gophers carried the momentum after the power play ended to score again 28 seconds later — this time, Walker and fellow captain Nanne assisted on Matt Staudacher's first goal of the season.
The Gophers had dug themselves out of a two-goal deficit, but they still had work to do in the third period.
In its biggest test of the weekend, Minnesota would have to go on the kill for five minutes after Walker received a major penalty and a game misconduct after he made head contact with a Colorado College player on a check. With the 10-minute misconduct on top of the five-minute penalty, Walker left the game, and Marooney served the five minutes in his place.
Motzko said that with so much practice on the penalty kill, the team took a positive step in that area of their play this weekend.
Minnesota not only killed the penalty, but Blake McLaughlin scored, assisted by Wait and Jonny Sorensen, to put the Gophers ahead 4-3. They held on to the lead to split their opening weekend with Colorado College, who they had not played since the WCHA realigned in 2013.
"You saw a little bit of everything, but overall I liked how we played all weekend," Motzko told Gopher Sports. "We found some offense, and that's what we needed to do."
Minnesota will return to 3M Arena at Mariucci on Oct. 18 for a series against Niagara.