Brock Faber and Mike Koster, two high-end freshman defensemen for the Gophers men’s hockey team, showed last week during the season-opening sweep of Penn State that the jump to college hockey wasn’t too big a hurdle for them to clear. Coach Bob Motzko even called them “thoroughbreds.’’
“We knew pretty early after seeing them practice a couple weeks that they were going to help us a lot this year,’’ sophomore center Ben Meyers added.
Faber and Koster did just that Monday night.
In the opener of the first Monday-Tuesday series for the Gophers in 45 years, Faber scored his first career goal and Koster appeared to notch his first, too — until a scoring change an hour after the game gave him an assist — in a 4-1 victory over Ohio State at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Sammy Walker and Bryce Brodzinski also scored, Meyers had an empty-net goal and goalie Jack LaFontaine made 17 saves as the eighth-ranked Gophers (3-0) beat the No. 10 Buckeyes. Minnesota, which outshot Ohio State 26-18, will try for the sweep Tuesday night.
“They’re a special group,’’ Motzko said. “They’re just a great group of guys who are really playing together right now.’’
The last time the Gophers played a Monday-Tuesday series, Herb Brooks was coaching the team, Tom Vannelli was the offensive standout and St. Louis University still had a varsity hockey team. The Gophers swept the Billikens at Williams Arena 4-3 and 6-3 on Oct. 27-28, 1975. That team went on to win the program’s second NCAA championship.
Unlike during the opening series, family members of players were not allowed in Mariucci, in adherence to Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 crowd restrictions. The official attendance was 0.
“It was a little surreal to start,’’ said Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik, whose team was making its season debut. “You walk out there, and there’s not a soul in the building.’’
After Ohio State hit the pipe 15 seconds into the game and got its first shot on goal 15 seconds later, the Gophers dominated the first period, gaining a 2-0 lead on goals by Faber and Walker and outshooting the Buckeyes 13-1.
Faber scored at 11:22 of the first when he took a diagonal pass from defensive partner Ryan Johnson and rifled a shot from the right circle over goalie Tommy Nappier’s glove.
“It’s obviously pretty exciting. I always dreamed of scoring at Mariucci for the Gophers,’’ said Faber, a Maple Grove native.
“I pictured a big crowd, but it’s an awesome feeling.’’
Walker made it 2-0 at 18:54 of the first period when he tapped a rebound of a Sampo Ranta shot.
Ohio State’s only shot on goal in the first came 30 seconds into the period. The Buckeyes didn’t get another until 6:05 had elapsed in the second, a span of 25:35.
Key to that was Minnesota’s dominance in the faceoff circle. The Gophers won 36 of 51 draws in the game and 15 of 18 in the first period. Meyers (15-3) and senior center Scott Reedy (13-4) led the way.
“It’s about emphasis and effort,’’ Meyers said.
Koster appeared to put the Gophers up 3-1 at 15:20 of the second when his power-play shot found the back of the next. After the game, a scoring change awarded the goal to Brodzinski on a redirection, with Koster getting the primary assist.
“We’re playing with confidence,’’ Motzko said. “… We’re doing it with really good team play.’’