Minneapolis, MN – As far as finales go, this one had everything: a two-goal deficit, physical play, exhilarating offensive chances, and a win on Senior Night.
After giving up two 5-on-3 goals to Ohio State, the Minnesota Gophers (25-8-1 Overall (4-3 OT), 17-3-2-2 B1G) responded, scoring two goals in 13 seconds and adding three more to sweep the Buckeyes (18-13-3 (0-0), 11-11-1-1) in the final game of the regular season.
The first period was defined by penalties. Through the first 16 minutes of play, Minnesota had two full powerplay chances and Ohio State had one. Neither team scored on their opportunities, and as the clock wound towards the end of the first period it seemed like the two teams would be locked in a defensive battle.
However, that all changed at 16:07. On the same play, Jimmy Snuggerud took a 5-minute boarding major and Matthew Knies took a 5-minute contact to the head major, giving Ohio State an extended 5-on-3 opportunity. The Gophers nearly escaped the period without allowing a goal, but OSU’s Cole McWard scored a huge goal with just 3 seconds remaining in the period to put the Buckeyes up 1-0 after one.
Ohio State still had 1:07 of two-man advantage to start the second, and the Gophers did a great job killing the penalties, but OSU again struck as time wound down, scoring 1:06 into the period to take a 2-0 lead.
Not the position you’d like to be in, down 2-0, but the near-kills gave Minnesota a bit of confidence as their star players exited the penalty box and hit the ice once more. The Gophers have come from behind so effectively this season, the sense around this team is that they are confident no matter the current score of the game.
That confidence shone through as they turned a two-goal deficit into a tie game in the span of 13 seconds. First, Rhett Pitlick capitalized on a Buckeye turnover behind the net and found Aaron Huglen alone in the slot. Huglen’s snapshot beat OSU’s Jakub Dobes to give the Gophers life at 2-1. Off the ensuing faceoff, Jimmy Snuggerud got half a step free up the right side and fired a low, hard wrist shot towards Dobes. The OSU netminder made the first save, but Matthew Knies was right on the doorstep to pick up the goal and tie the game at 2-2.
From there on, the game took a more serious turn, as each team buckled down and tried to play with discipline. The top line struck again in the final minute of the period to put Minnesota up for good. Jimmy Snuggerud broke up a play behind the goal line, and the puck squirted out to Knies right on the doorstep. Rather than shooting the puck, Knies dropped it between the legs to an overlapping Logan Cooley, who was able to elevate a wrister past Dobes’ glove to give the Gophers the 3-2 lead.
Minnesota is so comfortable with a lead, and despite the fact that they held a slim one-goal margin against a good opponent, the game never felt in doubt. The Gophers tacked on an insurance goal to make it 4-2 when Bryce Brodzinski single-handedly intercepted a D-to-D pass and scored on the backhand on a partial breakaway. The 14:43 goal was Brodzinski’s 15th of the season. Ryan Johnson added a 75 foot empty netter to round out the scoring at 5-2.
Always a near-afterthought, Justen Close was rock-solid again between the pipes for the Gophers, giving up just the two 5-on-3 goals on 30 Ohio State shots to earn his 22nd win of the season. The senior goalkeeper was one of the best stories in college hockey last year and has only added to his legendarium this season, ranking 2nd in wins (22), fifth in GAA (1.99), third in Shutouts (6), and fourth in Sv% (.928). The team in front of a goalie certainly plays a big role in individual statistical success, but Close has played well enough to be in every conversation about the best goalies in the country.
It’s another ho-hum 10 point weekend for the best line in college hockey, as Logan Cooley (1G-3A), Matthew Knies (1G-2A), and Jimmy Snuggerud (1G-2A) continue to pace this Gopher attack. Cooley’s 48 points (16-32) is good for third in the nation behind Michigan’s Adam Fantilli (20-30-50) and Quinnipiac’s Collin Graf (19-30-49). Snuggerud (20-16) sits in 5th nationally with 46 points, while Knies ‘lags’ behind in 12th place with 39 points (21-18). Knies is tied for third nationally in goals with 21.
The first round, best-of-three matchups have been set in the Big Ten following Saturday’s league games. Michigan (2) hosts Wisconsin (7), Ohio State (3) hosts Penn State (6), and Notre Dame (4) hosts Michigan State (5).
The Big Ten Champion Gophers sit out next weekend’s first round of the league playoffs, and will face the lowest-advancing seed in a one-and-done matchup Saturday March 11th.