Auston Matthews nets the game winner in OT
Minneapolis, Minn. – Luckily for the Gophers, tonight’s loss can just be chalked up for experience and not to their record.
The US National Development Program Under-18 team outshot Minnesota 40-29 and Auston Matthews scored two goals including the overtime game winner for the U-18 program’s first ever victory over Minnesota with a 5-4 win in front of 5,590 at Mariucci Arena.
“It’s not an easy game, we talked about the skilled team that they have and obviously we made some mistakes,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “I was actually happy with how Nick [Lehr] played tonight. It was his first start in net and I thought he made a lot of good saves and did a nice job.”
The U-18 group showed their team speed throughout the game, and delivered a performance confirming why people are talking like the 1997 birth year is one of the country’s best and deepest groups. Minnesota on the other hand is dealing with injuries to Brady Skjei and Travis Boyd, and trying to find which players can elevate their game.
“It gets disruptive when you’re rotating 14 forwards, and 7 defensemen, so even late in the game I had some guys out there maybe I wouldn’t of when you’re ahead by a goal with two minutes to go,” said Lucia. “You want to get some guys some reps and see what they can do in certain situations.”
Lehr certainly was busy throughout the night. The Gophers turned over the puck in their own zone frequently and were outshot 16-10 in the first period, 11-7 in the second, and 11-10 in the third. Despite their troubles, Minnesota actually got out to an early lead.
USNTDP Alum Jack Glover started off the scoring, picking up the puck off a Vinni Lettieri offensive zone draw win and firing a wrist shot into the upper left corner at 13:40. Ryan Reilly put Minnesota up by two with a wraparound beating the U-18 goalie and Badger recruit Luke Opilka at 15:42.
The U-18 skill finally delivered a goal 3:36 into the second period. Michigan recruit Brendan Warren took the puck down the right wing and as Minnesota struggled with their gaps, he found Caleb Jones filling an opening in the middle of the ice. The brother of Seth Jones, took advantage and one-timed the puck past Lehr.
The top prospect on the U-18 team and on the ice tonight, Auston Matthews, terrorized the Gopher defense throughout the night skating past numerous defensemen on the rush. He finally got his name onto the score sheet when he collected a Matthew Tkachuk pass on his forehand, drew it to his backhand, and shelfed the puck from the top of the blue paint at 6:05 of the second.
“They’ve got some talented players, there’s no doubt,” said Lucia. “When the right guys have the puck in the certain areas, it finds the back of the net. Guys like that are fun to watch.”
Steve Johnson got the Gophers a lead back at 13:09 of the second period. Kyle Rau maintained control of the puck in the offensive corner, and found Johnson skating into the high slot. Johnson collected the pass and wristed it to make the score 3-2.
The U-18 team tied it up 7:02 into the third period. New Hampshire recruit Joseph Masonius unleashed a one-timer from the point as a Gopher penalty expired to tie the game 3-3. Minnesota took a lead late in the third when Rau was all by himself to collect a rebound off Leon Bristedt’s point shot and backhand it past Opilka.
The lead was short lived as Tkachuck took advantage off the time and space given to him in the slot and snapped the puck into the upper left corner. Then 3:27 into overtime Tkachuck worked the puck out from behind the net to Matthews, and the 2016 draft prospect finished for the game winner and his second goal of the game.
“Obviously they are a really skilled, really fast team, I was around them a lot last year, I know what kind of players they are,” said Glover. “Definitely a disappointment tonight, but we’ve got to forget about it and get ready for the next two weeks.”
Brady Skjei is getting closer to returning to action according to Lucia. The junior defensemen skated on his own Wednesday and warmed up with the team on Thursday. Travis Boyd still hasn’t been on the ice since his injury. Lucia stated earlier this week that either player will need a full week of practice before returning to game action.
The Gophers leave for their Hockey East Challenge games on Thursday, and will play at Boston College Friday at 5pm and at Northeastern Saturday at 6 pm.
GOLDEN NUGGETS: Tkachuk decomitted from Notre Dame this week and all signs point to him heading to London (OHL) next season. “Nothing against them it’s a great school, I like a lot of things about them,” said Tkachuk. “It’s just right now I’m trying to focus on hockey, getting better every day, and win 18 world.” The forward said he hasn’t looked at any colleges lately and doesn't plan to decide on anything until summer… Lucia took advantage of the exhibition game to shake-up his lines a bit. Rau centered Warning and Bristedt, Kloos centered Cammarata and Fasching, Lettieri centered Connor Reilly and Ambroz, Isackson centered Hoglund and Michaleson. Rogge and Ryan Reilly also got spotted into the lineup. Nick Lehr got the start and all 60 minutes. Adam Wilcox dressed, but did not play… Lucia didn’t make any major changes to his power play this week, but rotating C. Reilly and Cammarata on the first unit, and tried out Ambroz on the second unit when C. Reilly was with the first… Minnesota is now 4-1-1 against the Under-18s, they tied 2-2 in 2012-13, and won their other matchups in 2002-03, 2004-05, 2007-08, 2010-11.
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