Gophers hockey shows grit, rallies past Bemidji State

Mike Reilly (right, in a file photo) and the Gophers rallied on Saturday night as they won, 5-3, against Bemidji State to sweep a two-game series.

Courtesy: University of Minnesota Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers men’s hockey team knew it would trail at some point this season. Through Minnesota’s first three games, though, that scenario hadn’t yet happened.

So when the Gophers fell behind early against Bemidji State on Saturday, Minnesota finally had to rally from behind. The Gophers did so not once but twice as they won 5-3 against the Beavers to sweep the two-game series and improve to 4-0 on the year.

"Even though we fell behind, I thought we got off to a real good start," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "It’s the first time we’ve given up the first goal in a game. It’s the first time we’ve been behind. . . . We found a way to rally back and tie it going into the third and then win the third period, which you have to do in so many games that are tight."

Bemidji State got on the board early when Markus Gerbrandt scored the first of his two goals in the game. His first goal came just 2:16 into the first period as he beat Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox on the first shot Minnesota’s netminder saw.

Minnesota’s response took just over 10 minutes, but the Gophers answered when Connor Reilly buried a shot from the point on a 5-on-3 power play. Special teams was big for Minnesota in Friday’s 5-2 victory, and it was key again in helping the Gophers get on the scoreboard Saturday.

Senior captain Kyle Rau put Minnesota up 2-1 less than three minutes after Reilly’s goal. Rau took a pass from defenseman Mike Reilly, who jumped out of the way in front of Rau’s shot as it beat BSU goalie Andrew Walsh.

Once again, though, the Gophers found themselves in a hole after two second-period goals by the Beavers. Matt Prapavessis slapped a centering pass from Nate Arentz past Wilcox to even the game at the 10:50 mark of the second. Not even two minutes later, Gerbrandt’s second goal of the night put Bemidji State back on top when he capitalized on a Gophers turnover.

"Obviously we’re not going to go through the whole season or even that far into the season without trailing," said Gophers forward Travis Boyd. "To get it out of the way at home, trailing at home as the first time of the year, that helps out. It’s a little easier than going on the road and trailing. It was a good learning experience."

Boyd, who scored two goals in Friday’s win, would once again be the hero in the third period, but not before Justin Kloos knotted the game at 3-all with his second goal of the season. Kloos scored with 3:20 left in the second as Minnesota once again pulled itself out of a deficit.

After a somewhat sluggish second period, the Gophers came out firing in the third. Minnesota had just three shots on goal in the second but fired 12 shots on Walsh in the final frame. One of those was off the stick of Boyd and found the back of the net for a 4-3 Gophers advantage. Boyd’s goal — which proved to be the game winner — came on the power play with 12:55 remaining in the game, and Minnesota’s Brady Skjei added an empty netter late to seal the win.

"I think we just had to buckle down," Kloos said. "Sometimes we rely on (Wilcox) too much. We kind of hung him out to dry a couple times there in the second. Once we got down, I think we all kind of realized that we all had to step it up and play for our goalie."

Mike Reilly, who had assists on the goals by Rau and Kloos, was honored during the second period Saturday. The junior defenseman was a first-team All-American last year, and the Gophers acknowledged his accomplishment during a break in the action.

Reilly’s picture was also added to a Mariucci Arena mural of fellow All-Americans, and Minnesota also played the song "Be Like Mike" on the speakers after a highlight montage from last season.

The Chanhassen, Minn., native estimated he had about 25 friends and family on hand to witness not only his ceremony, but a Gophers victory.

"It was pretty special, for sure," Reilly said. "I knew coming into it there was a little bit of talk about it. That’s the reason why a lot of my family and friends came. It’s a great honor, but you’re playing with so many great guys night in and night out. They just make it easy. Each guy’s making every other guy look good."

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter