Ex-Golden Gophers go for it as Leafs take on Wild Saturday

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It’s go time for the ex-Minnesota Golden Gophers on opposite sides of Saturday night’s  Wild – Maple Leafs game.

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Former college teammates Matthew Knies and Brock Faber insist friendships will be put aside for 60 minutes at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto’s Knies saying they avoided a Friday night dinner.

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“We’re both giving each other a little bit of space,” Knies laughed at Saturday’s morning skate. “It’s going to be toe-to-toe tonight.”

Faber, like Knies, came up late last season after the Gophers season ended with an overtime loss in the NCAA Frozen Four. Now the pair, with Arizona’s Logan Cooley, have launched 2023-24 in noteworthy fashion, defenceman Faber and forward Cooley with points in their first game (Faber’s first NHL goal), winger Knies getting untracked in a crazy 6-5 shootout win over Montreal.

“Brock was one of my best friends in school, he was our captain and I looked up to him a lot,” Knies said. “I loved to learn from that guy and pretty cool I get to play against him now. I kind of got to grow up with (both). Nice to see them do well.

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“Minnesota was the perfect place for me to develop (Knies was born in Arizona, while Faber is a North Star State native and Cooley from Pittsburgh).”

Cooley was the Coyotes’ first rounder, third overall in 2022, Faber and Knies second rounders the past couple of drafts.

“Matt’s a great guy and a hell of a hockey player, too,” Faber said. “The day he stepped on campus, everyone loved him. He’s always worked his tail off.

“We made the decision (to leave Minnesota early) but it’s fun we get to face off so early. We were all so close and that’s a bond we hope will last forever. But when playing against them … they’re not friends.”

Neither team is making any changes from their opening night victories, the Leafs going with Ilya Samsonov in goal and the same third line with Knies, fellow rookie Fraser Minten at centre and veteran right winger Calle Jarnkrok.

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“They’re two really good players already,” Jarnkrok said of the pair. “It’s only one game,  but I think they’ll keep getting better.”

For a while under general manager Bill Guerin, the Wild opened up from their traditional defensive posture, but reverted to form last year as one of the stingiest goals-against clubs. That tact will be tested early this season with key backliner Jared Spurgeon injured, but they blanked Florida at home, 2-0, to start.

Filip Gustavsson gets the start again ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury. Toronto had a pair of one-goal wins over Minnesota last season, including the emotional U.S. Thanksgiving game in St. Paul right after the death of Borje Salming from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

“They get on top of you quickly and forecheck hard, defend hard,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the Wild. “I expect it to be a different feel than the other night (when the Leafs were sloppy and the rebuilding Montreal could not hold a late two-goal lead).”

Counting pre-season games, the Leafs have played four straight at SBA this autumn that have gone to overtime or a shootout.

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