Gopher hockey beats Robert Morris 4-2, Motzko’s 400th career win

No. 12/11 Minnesota scored four unanswered goals to take down Robert Morris, 4-2, Friday night in men’s hockey action from 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Minnesota (11-6-4 overall) erased an early deficit to open the first-ever non-conference series against the Colonials (6-17-3 overall) with a victory. It was a night of career milestones for the Gophers as goaltender Nathan Airey earned his first win during his college hockey debut and Sam Rinzel matched his career-best performance, recording an assist on three of the team’s four goals. Behind the bench, head coach Bob Motzko won the 400th game of his collegiate career, including 124 with Minnesota.

It took just 29 seconds for the Maroon and Gold to generate a quality chance as Oliver Moore sped around the RMU defense and was stopped on the doorstep. After the home side put the game’s first six shots on target, it was the visitors that staked a 1-0 lead, scoring on a redirect in front of the crease at the 4:09 mark.

Minnesota answered back in a big way as Jaxon Nelson and Brody Lamb each found the back of the net over a 76-second span, turning the tide. Nelson scored 22 seconds following the Colonials’ goal, using the same method as the guests when he tipped in a Rinzel shot from the wall. The Gophers then moved to their first power play, where Lamb fired through traffic for the go-ahead tally 11 seconds after the start of the man advantage. The home side remained on the attack for the remainder of the opening period and posted the next six shots, carrying the 2-1 edge into the locker room.

The Colonials came out of intermission with a strong surge and tested Airey, but the freshman stood tall and stopped three early chances. An offensive-zone turnover from the Gophers allowed an odd-man rush the other way and forced a critical save from the Cochrane, Alberta, native to maintain the lead. Minnesota responded on the other end and stretched the advantage to 3-1 as Moore finished off a rebound from Luke Mittelstadt’s initial shot that started with the sophomore skating coast-to-coast before deking a RMU defenseman. The Maroon and Gold needed to deliver a pair of penalty kills in the middle of the second stanza to keep the Colonials from gaining any momentum and the score stayed 3-1 through two periods.

The Gophers had two early power-play chances to start the final frame and could not convert either opportunity. The offensive pressure continued from Minnesota as it forced RMU to defend, while getting timely saves from its own goalie. That led to a long outlet pass by Rinzel, who found a streaking Bryce Brodzinski up the middle of the ice and the fifth-year senior buried the breakaway with 3:45 remaining for a 4-1 advantage. The Colonials scored with less than two minutes to play in regulation and pulled their goalie down the stretch before Minnesota closed out the win.

After giving up the early goal, Airey settled into the game and ended his Gophers debut by making 19 saves, including three in the final minute to preserve his first victory.
Nelson snapped a five-game point drought with his sixth goal of the season and first since Nov. 18, while adding an assist for his 11th-career multi-point effort … Rinzel extended his team-leading assist total to 16 and moved into second in the NCAA for assists by a freshman defenseman … Brodzinski picked up his first point in three games with a first-period assist, reaching the 20-point mark for the third time in his Gophers’ career, before scoring his 11th goal … Lamb tallied his ninth goal this season and third on the power play, while the sophomore has doubled his point total from a year ago with 16 this season … Snuggerud recorded his 23rd point of the year and 12th in a seven-game stretch … Moore registered his third goal of 2023-24 and first since Nov. 3 … Mittelstadt had an assist Friday and now has a point in seven of his last nine outings … The Gophers held a wide, 57-21 margin in shots on goal, their most shots in a game and second time surpassing 50 this year … Goaltender Justen Close had his streak of 46-consecutive starts end as Airey stepped into the starting lineup Friday.

Next Up: Home vs. Robert Morris (Jan. 13)
The Gophers play their final non-conference game of 2023-24 Saturday evening as they close the series against Robert Morris. Puck drop is slated for 5 p.m. live on FOX 9+ and streaming on B1G+ with an audio broadcast on the Gopher Radio Network 103.5 FM/AM-1130 KTLK.

Courtesy: University of Minnesota Sports Information