Worcester, MA – Head Coach Bob Motzko and Assistant Coach Garrett Raboin happen to share a birthday, and it happens to be March 27th.
The Gophers got their coaches a trip to Boston.
Behind stifling team defense, timely offense, and a bit of luck, the Minnesota Gophers (24W-10L-2OT3W-2OT3L) beat the Western Michigan Bronocs (24-11-2-1) by a 3-0 score in the Worcester regional final to move on to the Frozen Four, two weekends hence in Boston, MA. The Gophers will take on Minnesota State in the semifinals, while Denver will face Michigan in the other semifinal.
Western Michigan boasts the nation’s leading goal-scorer in Ethen Frink, and it was clear that Minnesota aimed to keep him at bay throughout the contest, often siccing all-world defenseman Brock Faber on him to neutralize the big forward.
It worked (Frink totaled zero shots on goal throughout the contest), and Faber himself flashed a bit of offense, pinching down the left-wing wall on a pass from Ben Meyers and finding Matthew Knies alone in the low slot for a one-time goal to put the Gophers on the board 1-0 just past the midway point of the first.
Both teams played solid, tight hockey through the end of the first period, but Western Michigan started asserting itself in the second. The Broncos earned a power play 6:09 into the middle frame, but Minnesota killed the advantage masterfully. Jaxon Nelson had a breakaway chance shorthanded for the Gophers, but WMU’s Brandon Bussi made a nice save to keep the Broncos in it.
Just past the midway point of the second, it appeared that Western Michigan had tied the game at 1-1 when Ronnie Attard’s fluttering rebound shot beat Justen Close high. However, the referees reviewed the play and determined that the Broncos had entered the zone offsides, so the call was overturned. Western continued to push throughout the second, but the Gopher defensive corps and Close were up to the task, turning aside all 12 Bronco shots in the period to keep Minnesota up 1-0 entering the third.
The Faber Treatment must have been getting to Ethen Frank, because he took a hard slash at Faber almost off the opening draw in the third, resulting in a Gopher powerplay just 10 seconds into the period. Minnesota’s power play struggled throughout much of this season, but has been on fire lately, going 7 for the previous 14 over the last six games. This power play early in the third was Minnesota’s only opportunity of the game, but the Gophers took advantage of it, with Aaron Huglen one-timing a Ben Meyers pass from the left circle past Bussi to give the Maroon & Gold an important 2-0 lead.
The Huglen goal provided Minnesota some breathing space, but they still had 19+ minutes left to ice the game away. Faber, Johnson, and Co. held down the fort on the defensive end, while the Gopher forwards played a masterful third period, taking offensive opportunities when they had them while not getting caught behind the play.
Matt Staudacher took a penalty at 16:28 to give WMU some life, but Blake McLaughlin was able to score a shorthanded empty netter to push Minnesota’s lead to 3-0, which is how the scoring finished.
Justen Close earned his third career shutout at the best time imaginable, and the Gophers’ season continues to the Frozen Four. There, they’ll take on Minnesota State on Thursday, April 7th for the right to play for a national championship. The Gophers and Mavericks will play the late game, a 7:30 CDT affair, on ESPN2.