Boston, MA – For the second-straight season, the Minnesota State Mavericks have ended the Minnesota Gophers’ season in the NCAA Tournament.
Last year was a 4-0 drubbing in the regional final, while this year was a 5-1 Mankato victory in the Frozen Four. Although the scoreline looks equally ugly, it’s at least this writer’s contention that this year’s performance was better than last year’s. Minnesota State was the better team, though, and hats off to them for playing a good hockey game.
The Gophers got on the board first in the first period, when a Mankato turnover resulted in a 2-on-0 breakaway for Minnesota. Bryce Brodzinski and Matthew Knies played a beautiful game of tic-tac-toe before Knies buried the puck to put the Gophers up 1-0 at 9:00 of the first period.
Minnesota held the 1-0 lead for nearly a full period, but Mankato surged back, scoring twice on wraparounds in the 2nd to go up 2-0 after 2.
The Gophers had an early push in the 3rd, with Ben Meyers sliding a puck through MSU goalie Dryden McKay’s five-hole (and the puck slithering just wide), but Minnesota State scored on a great tip in off a shot from the point to go up 3-1 at 1:57 of the period to effectively extinguish the comeback. Mankato would score again later in the third to go up 4-1, and finally would put the puck into an empty net as the Gopher tried to mount a comeback to seal the game at 5-1.
The game was anybody’s going into the third period, and the Gophers had a puncher’s chance to win and advance to the final. In the end, Mankato’s stifling team defense was just too much for Minnesota, as the Mavericks held the Gophers to just 17 shots on goal throughout the contest.
Minnesota State advances to face Denver on Saturday night in the National Championship Game, while the Gophers return home and see who is heading to the pros. The most likely candidates are Ben Meyers (who is an NHL free-agent, and will likely sign with a contender and play NHL minutes right away) and Brock Faber (who is owned by the LA Kings). Other possible signees include Matthew Knies, Ryan Johnson, and Jackson LaCombe.
The Gophers have also likely seen the last of seniors Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin, Grant Cruikshank, Ben Brinkman, and Sam Rossini. Each of the first four players has an extra COVID-eligible year, but all went through the Senior Night ceremony this season, so it is expected that all will be moving on.
One other piece of Gopher-related business to be determined this year is the Hobey Baker award. Ben Meyers is in the final three, along with McKay and Denver’s Bobby Brink. Meyers is the first Gopher to be in the final three for the Hobey since Jordan Leopold won the award in 2002.
The future is bright for this Gopher team, though, with an incoming freshman class highlighted by likely top-five pick Logan Cooley, and several other potential high draft picks.
Always disappointing to have the season end, but only one team in the country wins their last game, and the Gophers made it to the Frozen Four for the first time in eight seasons. Let’s hope the team makes it at least this far next year again, when the Frozen Four returns to Tampa Bay.