Tampa, Fla. — Coming into the Frozen Four there were high hopes for the pace of play based on the sheer volume of skill amongst the teams in Tampa. The Gophers boasted 14 draft picks in their line-up and the Terriers tallied 11 in theirs. Neither team disappointed during an intense Minnesota 6-2 win over Boston University during the first semi-final of the weekend. However it wasn’t necessarily the Gophers top line or the Terriers heralded freshman defensemen that made the most noise, it came from some of the team’s depth players.
“I’ll say it, this was an any four teams here could win this thing [weekend]. It’s a single-elimination, one-and-done type. And it comes down to limiting your mistakes and capitalizing when you got a chance,” said Motzko.
“We had three power play goals. The pace is going to — you’re going to see Michigan tonight try to push pace against Quinnipiac. And there’s some fast teams here. There’s a lot of talent on all four teams. And we’ve got one left.”
The Gophers got seven power play chances during a tightly officiated game and it wasn’t the top unit of Logan Cooley, Matthew Knies, Jaxon Nelson, Jimmy Snuggerud and Jackson LaCombe capitalizing, rather it was a second unit of Mike Koster, Luke Mittelstadt, Mason Nevers, Aaron Huglen and Rhett Pitlick.
During a night when the Gophers top line seemed to be pressing to make a big splash on the big stage, the secondary scoring came through when Minnesota needed it. Koster, who earlier in the year stepped into a productive role for LaCombe with the top unit, calmly navigated the QB spot atop the power play and got a goal and an assist. Mittelstadt continued his strong season which included making the USA World Junior Team and being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team to tally two goals in the third period to take the lead and extend the lead.
It was a strong night for the two depth defensemen who may be overlooked because of the focus on the returning Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson.
“One of the reasons we were calling USA Hockey and said you’ve got to watch this guy. I know he wasn’t drafted,” said Motzko. “But he’s a candidate for the World Junior team. And they start watching right away. His progression, he had a terrific season last year in the USHL. And he’s really been great from the first day that he stepped on the ice with us.”
Seeing the depth step up for Minnesota was critical because despite having the better of the chances throughout the night, the Gophers missed the net on far too many chances. The Gophers had 71 shot attempts compared to the Terriers 54, but Minnesota missed the net 21 times and had 15 shots blocked. The Knies-Cooley-Snuggerud accounted for 10 of those missed shot attempts and four blocked shots.
“They collapse to the middle and really, and they’re there to block shots. And we knew we didn’t want to miss the net and we didn’t want to get shots blocked. We kind of failed on the one, missing the net too many times,” said Motzko.
“But we felt that was something we could do was chuck some pucks in from the side angle. And you’ve got to be careful because they’re dangerous at their transition game out of their defensive zone. That’s one of their great, great strengths that we had down… but our guys, I felt we did a really good job with that tonight, stopping their transition out of their zone.”
Motzko shared with Paul Caponigri and Dan Kelly in a post-game video that his top line might have been pressing a bit to make a big impact and make the perfect play too many times. He hoped that getting through the game would help them let the opportunities come to them on Saturday.