MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team put on an offensive clinic and controlled play for most of the game in their 7-1 win over the Wisconsin Badgers in the border battle on Friday at 3M Arena at Mariucci after three straight weeks on the road.
The Gophers dropped to No. 2 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, but moved up one spot to No. 3 in the USCHO poll entering the series. They now lead the Big Ten with 27 points and a 9-2 record in conference play thanks to a four-goal first period performance.
Right from the opening shift, the Matthew Knies-Logan Cooley-Jimmy Snuggerud line was buzzing. It didn’t take long for the them to connect for a goal, and the trio took center stage in the first game of their last series of the calendar year.
The onslaught for the Gophers began with Cooley, who has taken his game to the next level in the past month. It was only two weeks ago when he scored a lacrosse-style goal against Arizona State. The 18-year-old scored the game’s first goal when he threw a backhander at the open net that became dislodged as he drove to the net, showing off his patience in the process.
We mean, who else but Logan Cooley, amiright? pic.twitter.com/aezT9B0FrY— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) December 10, 2022
Before Cooley found the back of the net again, the Badgers cut the lead in half with a goal from Charlie Stramel after captain Brock Faber turned the puck over in the defensive zone while trying to break out of his own zone.
After receiving a pass from Knies, Cooley scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway.
Logan Cooley one-vs-one?— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) December 10, 2022
Lol, bet. pic.twitter.com/gc2cCCPXyx
Cooley is tied with Snuggerud for the team lead with 24 points on the year while Knies has 22 points. The trio’s been good all season, but they’ve heated up over the past month and their confidence is evident as the season’s progressed.
“Playing with a guy like Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies, they’re so easy to play with,” Cooley said. “They work so hard (and) they both can finish, make plays, so it’s been awesome playing with them.”
They’ve combined for 70 points now this season and are among the 10 players on the Gophers who have double digits in points. Minnesota is the only team in the nation to have this feat to this point.
“They’re feeling it right now,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said.
But it’s Cooley who has really progressed as of late after a slow start.
“He’s smiling everyday now,” said Motzko, who added that the road trips were great for Cooley, and that he settled in.
Cooley is also a lock to make the USA World Juniors Championships roster.
“Any chance you get to represent your country, especially on a world stage like that, is truly an honor, so I’m looking forward to it and excited,” Cooley said.
Speaking of players on a hot streak, Jaxon Nelson and Bryce Brodzinski continued their scoring ways with the Gophers’ second and third goals. Brodzinski’s nice feed connected with Nelson, who scored on a one-time blast from the top of the left circle.
Safe to say, Jaxon Nelson was absolutely locked and LOADED for that shot! pic.twitter.com/F2whL5ZUFB— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) December 10, 2022
Then Brodzinski made it a three goal game with a shot from the high slot that beat Jared Moe glove side, top shelf, on the power play. Brodzinski and Nelson are up to 15 and 18 points, respectively, on the season.
“They’ve been cooking for awhile,” Motzko said of the Nevers-Nelson-Brodzinski line. “We’re trying to get a couple other lines to feel it like those two lines are, and it’s starting to come.”
Rhett Pitlick fooled Moe from a sharp angle, to make it a 5-1 game — ending Moe’s night.
Ryan Chesley scored his first collegiate goal on a one-timer from the right circle at around the midway mark of the middle frame to make it a 6-1 game.
“I think I’ve been doing good all year with it,” Chesley said of his offensive play this season. “I think just finally getting one to go through is a little bit of relief, so I think it’ll be good to have more come.”
Then Aaron Huglen scored Minnesota’s lone third period goal and seventh goal of the game when he beat Kyle McClellan five-hole on a breakaway.
While Minnesota was pouring on the offense all game, they gave up 16 shots in the middle frame. Motzko said they need “to tighten things up tomorrow” because they coughed up too many pucks and tried too many drop passes in the middle frame.
Justen Close was excellent between the pipes and was a major reason why the Gophers kept Wisconsin to a single goal. Close stopped 37 of 38 for a .974 save percentage and continues to be someone the Gophers can trust.
“Justen Close was sneaky, sneaky — behind the scenes because of the score — really good tonight,” Motzko said.
This is the Gophers fifth win against the Badgers in the past six meetings. They haven’t lost in regulation, going 5-0-1 during the span, as they look to continue it again Saturday night.