Fargo, ND – The weather is nice this time of year in Tampa Bay. The Minnesota Gophers are going to be able to enjoy it.
The Gophers (28-9-1) advanced to the Frozen Four in Tampa with a 4-1 victory over the St. Cloud State Huskies (25-13-3) in the West Regional final. Minnesota will face Boston University on Thursday, April 6th.
After a slow start in Thursday’s first-round game against Canisius, Minnesota looked like they were shot out of a cannon to start against St. Cloud. The Gophers absolutely dominated the first 20 minutes, outshooting St. Cloud 14-6 in the opening stanza despite two Gopher penalties in the period.
The Gophers took the lead when Bryce Brodzinski scored his fourth goal of the regional (and 19th of the season) just after a Minnesota power play had expired. Jaxon Nelson headmanned the puck up the left wing on a two-on-two rush, taking it to the goal line before finding Brodzinski out in front. Brodzinski fluttered a shot past SCSU goalie Jaxon Castor to give the Gophers the all-important 1-0 lead.
Minnesota controlled the rest of the period, generating all sorts of Grade ‘A’ chances, but Castor kept the Huskies in the game, and after the first period the Gophers held only a slim 1-0 lead.
St. Cloud tied the game early in the second period, when an ill-advised Matthew Knies penalty gave St. Cloud another powerplay chance. SCSU’s Adam Ingram scored at 3:07 to tie the game at 1-1.
Logan Cooley was penalized for slashing the Huskie’s Jami Krannila on the ensuing faceoff, and St. Cloud went to yet another powerplay with a chance to take the lead. Justen Close was strong all game, and stood tall in the crease for Minnesota at this critical juncture of the game, making huge saves and controlling rebounds to limit St. Cloud’s second-chance opportunities.
Cooley made amends quickly after the penalty expired, taking a home-run pass from Jackson LaCombe for a breakaway and sliding the puck five-hole on Castor to give the Gophers the lead back at 2-1.
Minnesota is a seasoned team, and milking a slim lead is something they’ve learned to do over and over again this season. That’s exactly what they did Saturday against St. Cloud.
The Gophers held strong, limiting St. Cloud’s chances throughout the rest of the second and into the third. SCSU’s best chance to tie the game came off a rush, when former Gopher Grant Cruikshank (did you know his mom is Bonnie Blair?!) snuck up the weak side and had a nearly open net to shoot at. The chance would have been a goal if not for an epic backcheck by Logan Cooley, who skated hard and got his stick on both the puck and Cruikshank to direct the deflected shot safely into the end boards.
Minnesota got some breathing room when Jackson LaCombe boomed a one-time slapshot off a Cooley faceoff win past Castor at 11:44 to give the Gophers a mammoth 3-1 lead. Given the way the defense had played, a two-goal lead seemed insurmountable, and that ended up being the case.
Minnesota added a Jaxon Nelson empty net goal at 19:29 to close the scoring at 4-1 and punch their ticket to the Frozen Four.
Minnesota will face Boston University Thursday April 6th in Tampa for the right to play for the national title. The Terriers won Hockey East’s regular season and playoff titles, and beat Western Michigan and Cornell in the Manchester Regional. BU is led by freshman defensemen Lane Hutson, who looked incredible leading the Terriers back to the Frozen Four.
Information about game times and fan meetups is upcoming. For now, enjoy the Gophers’ second trip to the Frozen Four in as many years. Go Gophers!