The Gophers quest to get their head coach to the top of the record books got off to a bad start Thursday.
Freshman goaltender Nick Lehr, making his first collegiate start, gave up three goals on the first four shots he faced.
After just 10 minutes of play, the Gophers found themselves in a 3-0 hole.
But picking up their goaltender, the team battled back and took the lead in less than a period and a half.
Secured with an empty net goal was the 390th career win of head coach Don Lucia, which moved him into a tie for most in program history.
But after rallying for a 5-3 win the Gophers couldn’t mount another comeback Saturday and lost 4-2, their first loss in conference play since joining the Big Ten.
“It’s an emphasis for them to score first,” senior captain Kyle Rau said Friday. “We didn’t do that. We came back yesterday but you can’t continue to put yourself behind right off the get go.”
Lucia’s record-tying win came with an unfamiliar face in goal, as an injury to junior goaltender Adam Wilcox thrust Lehr into game action for only the second time this season.
After the Spartans’ three goals, a timeout on the ice allowed Lucia to call his greenhorn goaltender to the bench, where his coach and teammates were able to offer their support.
And after a few saves to his midsection, Lehr settled in.
“After the three goals I think there were one or two saves right away that kind of ended up towards my chest,” Lehr said. “I think that was kind of like a hug for me. It was just like, alright, here you go, be comfortable and go from here.”
The Gophers worked to support their goaltender. Minnesota began controlling the puck, until senior forward Travis Boyd put the team on the board at the end of the first period.
The Gophers kept the pressure on, chipping away at the Michigan State lead. And once his teammates started backing him up, Lehr backed them up too.
“I was like ‘they’re battling for you, you’ve got to battle for them,” Lehr said.
The freshman ended the game with 20 straight saves to close out the win.
“I’m really happy for Nick,” Lucia said. “I talked to him in that timeout, I just said ‘hey, relax. [You] played 80 games at junior hockey, just play the way you can play. Play confident, and try to have some fun out here tonight.”
Friday Wilcox returned to lead the Gophers onto the ice, but the team was drastically different than Thursday.
The Gophers were outworked and outshot by the Spartans, whose defense stifled Minnesota all night.
“They were keeping us away from the front of the net,” Rau said. “That’s how we scored last night so I’m sure it was an emphasis for them this morning.”
The Spartans controlled possession throughout the game, and pounced on turnovers to take a 3-1 lead in the third period.
Rau attempted a comeback by making it a one goal game late in the period, but sophomore forward Hudson Fasching was called for a late penalty the Gophers couldn’t recover from.
“They were first on pucks, they won battles and they deserved to win,” Lucia said.
The Gophers will have to wait another week so vault their head coach to the top of the record books. This time, away from home ice.
“It would’ve been cool,” Rau said. “It would’ve been a great honor for him to do it in front of our home fans.”