Gophers sweep Robert Morris behind first goals of season from Nevers, Koster

A couple of Gophers veterans who battled injury problems at the start of the season lit the lamp for the first time in 2023-24 on Saturday.

Mason Nevers and Mike Koster each scored their first goals of the season and the Gophers men's hockey team completed a sweep of Robert Morris, winning 4-1 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

"One of the better games we've played start to finish," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "I liked our energy throughout the whole lineup."

Aaron Huglen and Jimmy Snuggerud also scored goals for the No. 12 Gophers (12-6-4), while Justen Close returned to net a day after his streak of 46 consecutive starts ended, making 15 saves in his team's fourth game of the week. The Gophers played a Sunday-Monday series against Colorado College after the world junior tournament ended in Sweden.

Nevers and Koster both played in all 40 games for the Gophers last season on their run to the NCAA championship game, with Koster finishing sixth on the team with 29 points and Nevers 10th with 23.

But both missed the start of 2023-24 because of injuries, with Nevers sitting out four games and Koster six. Coming into Saturday, Nevers had five assists this season and Koster had seven.

"You could just feel the weight leaving. Even on our bench, it was like we won the Stanley Cup when those two scored," Motzko said. "Because our players know what those guys went through with their injuries. They were monster goals for those two young men to get."

Nevers scored the game's first goal 9 minutes, 37 seconds into the first period. Bryce Brodzinski dumped the puck in, then stole Gabriel Lunn's pass behind the Colonials net and fed Nevers in the left faceoff circle. Nevers quickly fired a shot that found the net for his 19th career goal. He hadn't scored since the Gophers' NCAA tournament opener against Canisius last March in Fargo, a span of 20 games.

"A lot of relief," Nevers said. "... Goals are hard to come by at this level, so definitely soaked it in at that moment."

In the second period on the power play, Koster, a co-captain with Jaxon Nelson, got the puck at the point and had a clear path to the net. He skated in and lifted the puck over goalie Chad Veltri's right shoulder for a 2-0 lead.

Huglen made it 3-0 just past the halfway point of the second period. Connor Kurth fed Huglen a cross-ice pass and Huglen didn't get much on his shot, but the puck trickled past Veltri. Initially, the officials waved off the goal, saying Brody Lamb was in the crease, but after review Huglen was credited with his fourth goal of the season.

Walter Zacher got Robert Morris (6-15-3) within 3-1 by scoring on a 3-on-1 break with 4:22 left in the second period. But Snuggerud restored the three-goal lead with his team-high 17th goal of the season at the 8:24 mark of the third period.

Veltri finished with 40 saves. Over the two games, the Gophers had a 101-38 edge in shots on goal over the Colonials.

The Gophers will play Big Ten competition the rest of the regular season, with Ohio State visiting next Friday and Saturday.