MINNEAPOLIS — The No. 2 Minnesota men’s hockey team could’ve pointed to a litany of moments where things simply didn’t go their way.
It could’ve been Matthew Knies’ equalizing goal ripped away by a whistle before junior goaltender Erik Portillo fully secured the puck. It could’ve been the multitude of shots that rang off the post to the chagrin of the Golden Gophers faithful. It could’ve been a slashing penalty which hobbled star forward Logan Cooley.
But it didn’t have to.
Because the Michigan hockey team put together its most aggressive, urgent and energized road performance of the season against the second best team in the country — and it still wasn’t enough.
The Wolverines weren’t perfect, but in contrast to many of Michigan’s losses, Friday’s outcome reflected what went right for Minnesota. Not what went wrong for the Wolverines.
“It was a really good game by us,” Gopher forward Matthew Knies said. “Obviously give a lot of credit to them, they’re a skilled team and they play hard, but I love the grit we had today.”
Grit was the apt term. While neither group played perfectly on Mariucci’s Olympic-sized Ice, both certainly left all they had on it. By the final minutes of the overtime period, the fatigue had set in and each heavyweight had seemingly thrown every last jab in their repertoire.
Knies — a 210 lb. heavyweight himself — knew it well. After scoring his first goal of the game to reassert a 2-1 Minnesota lead, the Gophers momentarily reasserted their position in the driver’s seat. Yet, 58 seconds and two goals by the Wolverines freshman forwards Gavin Brindley and Adam Fantilli later, and Minnesota was sent into the second intermission down 3-2.
Michigan dealt the blows it needed, but the Gophers got up every time — with Knies leading the way.
“He’s a big body, so strong,” Minnesota defenseman Jackson Lacombe said. “You got to play him at the right angles, or else he’ll get you.”
A microcosm for the greater event, Knies was the poster-child for a night that saw the Gophers overcome the Wolverines late. It never came easy, but with their backs pressed against the ropes, Minnesota and Knies never stopped swinging.
Entering the third period, Michigan had the opportunity to press on the gas. The Wolverines dominated a second-period characterized by an urgency that empowered three goals, 18 shots, six shot blocks and a strong time of possession. Michigan played an incredible period against an incredible opponent — just not at the right time.
In a tale of two periods, the Gophers flipped the script, playing their best hockey when they needed it most. A testament to the grit Knies affirmed and at the Wolverines’ expense, Minnesota never let up. Even in the face of ample moments where chances never materialized, Minnesota played its game.
“I just tried to stay calm,” Lacombe said. “And obviously we got a lot of shots on and the goalie’s playing well, so we just got to stay on our game.”
Despite the Wolverines’ best efforts, the Gophers eventually came through. Across the entire third period and amid Knies’ no goal, Minnesota hammered Michigan, finishing with a 18-6 shot differential in its favor. The Wolverines could only hold on so long before a cross-point slap-shot from Lacombe evened the game at three, eventually sending it into overtime.
And after rounds of blows, Minnesota’s grit finally prevailed over Michigan’s energized urgency. And it came from none other than Matthew Knies.
Patiently waiting in nearly the same spot where he had had his goal taken from him just minutes before, Knies collected a rebounding shot from the point, burying it for game-winner and expediting Michigan’s fourth consecutive Friday loss in Big Ten play.
The Gophers could point to many moments where a loss could have materialized, but against the surging Wolverines, Matthew Knies and Minnesota found a way.
They ensured Michigan would squander its strong performance, hitting the Wolverines with the knockout punch.