Pitlick scores twice in exhibition win against USA

The No. 1/3 Golden Gophers men’s hockey team picked up an exhibition win against the USA Hockey National Team Development Program U18 Team, 3-2, Thursday afternoon inside 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Rhett Pitlick scored twice in the first period around a Matthew Knies tally in the final home game of the 2022 calendar year for Minnesota. Justen Close and Owen Bartoszkiewicz combined to make 27 saves in net to limit USA to two goals, one of which came after pulling its goalie in the closing minutes.

It barely took a minute for the Gophers to open the scoring as Jackson LaCombe found a streaking Pitlick up the middle of the ice. The sophomore buried the breakaway chance just 64 seconds into the contest and the first shot of the afternoon following a defensive stop by LaCombe, where he broke up a Team USA pass in the slot. The home side carried the offensive play recording nine of the first 10 shots on goal.

USA answered back to even the score at the mid-point of the first frame taking advantage of extended zone time during a delayed penalty call. Future Gopher Oliver Moore was the one to find the back of the net and make it a 1-1 game. Knies gave the Maroon and Gold a 2-1 lead thanks to a wicked shot from the top of the circle and Pitlick added his second of the night, from nearly the same spot as Knies, with a shorthanded tally with less than four minutes to play in the period.

The second stanza did not carry the same pace as the opener and both teams were unable to generate many quality chances until Pitlick made a bid for his hat trick from the slot. Aaron Huglen nearly scored on a between-the-legs shot along the right post, but neither side put one away as the Gophers carried their two-goal edge into the final frame.

A strong backcheck by Cal Thomas negated a Team USA breakaway in the middle of the third period to maintain the 3-1 lead. The visitors pulled within a goal with 1:52 remaining in the contest, scoring after pulling its goalie, but Minnesota held on for the 3-2 victory.

Close played the first 31 minutes and stopped 10-of-11 shots faced before Bartoszkiewicz took over in goal and finished off the victory. The Alton, Ill, native made 17 saves for the Gophers.