After his team posted its seventh consecutive victory to open the season, Bob Motzko quickly offered a dose of reality.
“We’re not going to run the table; It never happens in hockey,” the Gophers men’s hockey coach said Tuesday night.
That almost certainly will be true, but on Wednesday night in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Gophers finished off an impressive accomplishment:
They ran the table through the December portion of their schedule — and did so in dominant fashion.
Scott Reedy had a goal and an assist and Jack LaFontaine made 34 saves for his second shutout of the season as the fourth-ranked Gophers routed No. 5 Michigan 4-0 to complete an 8-0 start. They have yet to trail in any game, and their unblemished start is the best for the program since the 1987-88 team won its first nine games on its way to the WCHA regular-season championship and an NCAA Frozen Four berth.
Sammy Walker, Jaxon Nelson and Mike Koster also scored for Minnesota, which leads the Big Ten with 24 points. Michigan fell to 5-5 overall and 3-5 for 8 points in the Big Ten. The Gophers are expected to return to action the weekend of Jan. 1, though the Big Ten has yet to release its schedule beyond December.
Because of training camp for the U.S. National Junior team, neither team was at full strength. The Gophers were without top defensemen Ryan Johnson, Jackson LaCombe and Brock Faber, while the Wolverines were missing four forwards and one defenseman.
Minnesota started quickly again, with Reedy giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead at 4:24 of the first when he converted a rebound of a Ben Brinkman shot past Wolverines goalie Strauss Mann. The goal was Reedy’s sixth of the season, tying for the national lead.
At 11:43 of the first, both Walker (slashing) and Michigan’s Jimmy Lambert (hooking) were sent to the penalty box. On the four-on-four, Michigan’s Luke Morgan split the Gophers defense and broke in alone on LaFontaine, but the goalie denied him with a glove save at 12:31.
The Gophers got the game’s first power play at 14:48 of the first when Wolverines forward Michael Pastujov held Jack Perbix on a rush into the Michigan zone. Walker, the junior captain who had one point in the previous four games, pounded home a rebound of Robbie Stucker shot from the point for a 2-0 lead at 15:46. That gave Minnesota a power-play goal in six of eight games this season.
Michigan applied heavy pressure in the final minute of the first, but LaFontaine made big saves on Lambert and Jacob Truscott, and Gophers forward Ben Meyers swept the puck away from an open goal with Michigan forward Josh Groll’s stick inches away.
In the second period, the Gophers scored two quick goals to double their lead to 4-0.
With Michigan’s Nick Granowicz off for tripping, Nelson banged home a rebound of a Ranta shot for a power-play goal at 6:43.
Only 22 seconds later, Koster pounced on a Wolverines turnover and hammered a shot from the slot past Mann to make it 4-0 on his first career goal. That prompted Michigan coach Mel Pearson to pull Mann, last season’s Big Ten goalie of the year, in favor of Erik Portillo. Mann gave up the four goals on 17 shots.
Michigan responded with more pressure midway through the period, but LaFontaine made three successive saves during a Wolverines flurry, and the period ended with Minnesota up 4-0.
Michigan got its first power play of the game at 9:11 of the third when Nathan Burke was called for slashing. Minnesota killed the penalty, making it a perfect 17-for-17 on the kill this season.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.