Jaxon Nelson scores the game winning goal! Photo by Craig Cotner
Jaxon Nelson scores the game winning goal! Photo by Craig Cotner

Gophers Grind 3-2 Win Over Omaha

Sioux Falls, SD — All season the Gopher’s focus has been getting back to the Frozen Four for a third consecutive season. It wasn’t about winning a conference title. It wasn’t about winning a conference tournament. It was about making the NCAA tournament and making a run to Xcel Energy Center. Well they cleared the first milestone Thursday night with a 3-2 win over Omaha in front of 5,691 fans at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

The Gophers were led by a few of their most experienced players as Jaxon Nelson scored the game tying and game winning goals during the third period and Bryce Brodzinski assisted on those two goals. Mason Nevers didn’t get any points on the night, but his leadership was crucial.

“Those three have meant the world to us,” said Motzko. “In between the first and second, Nevers took over the locker room and we’re just listening through the door and that kid is a winner and that’s what you need. As a coach, you sit back, you need the players to step forward and that’s what we had tonight.”

“Our older guys tonight, particularly with Closer, Nelly, Nevers and Brodzinski, I really believe that experience that we’ve had in the last few years in these big games really came through and kind of taught our young guys something.”

Nevers said after the game that the biggest thing for the Gophers was just not letting the Mavericks sway them out of their game. He reiterated between periods that they need to stay on top of the details, buy into each other and have that total complete belief that they were going to get it done. He highlighted that the wall play was something they paid special attention to by not letting those high risk plays become detrimental to the flow, hold on to pucks as long as they could and be as detailed as possible with support.

“We didn’t have any doubt,” said Nevers. “We had a full belief that we were gonna get it done.”

Justen Close has been steady for Minnesota all season long and his 34 saves were crucial as a heavy Omaha team parked traffic on top of the crease and pounded pucks into it.

“Give Omaha a lot of credit,” said Close. “They did a good job of getting to the net, getting pucks there and I thought our guys did a great job of boxing out, letting me see pucks and clearing pucks as well.”

The Mavericks got their first goal while Ryan Chesley sat in the box serving a major penalty and Joaquim Lemay’s point shot got through a crowd to the back of the net. Omaha’s second goal came off of a rebound that spilled to Ty Mueller after Jack Randl sort of whiffed on his first attempt that got Close off guard. The Mavericks produced more pressure throughout, but there weren’t many scrambles because of Close.

“This was not going to be a fun night. They are a tough heavy team and we’d like to get up and go a little bit more. We had to play a heavy game,” said Motzko. ”I was worried because sometimes with us, as you’ve seen when something negative happens or you get challenged sometimes because we want to run, but we stayed in the moment tonight.”

Tonight was also a special moment for Nelson playing 30 minutes from his home and playing in front of numerous friends and family in the stands.

“It was great to get the win. It was a great atmosphere and the crowd was really cheering us on,” said Nelson. “The support from the community means a lot and I know I have it and it makes it a lot easier to go out there and play.”

Nelson got a loud cheer from the crowd during the starting lineups and the arena seemed to have more Gophers fans than the other three teams at the regional combined.

“You kind of heard it when they announced the starting lineup saying his name was called, it was louder than when the Gophers were announced,” said Brodzinski. “It’s obviously super cool and it’s especially important that he’s doing it at this time of the season.”

Minnesota will now play Boston University who defeated RIT 6-3 in Thursday’s earlier game that featured a lot of loose structure and plenty of offensive transition play. The last time the Gophers met the Terriers was in Tampa during the Frozen Four when the Gophers ran away with the victory 6-2.

“We know that they’re very fast, very talented, young and skilled,” said Close. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for the players that they have over there and the program that they have. It’s going to take a great effort on our part, but we’re ready for it.”