It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But it got done. Ben Meyers goal with 11:29 left in overtime propelled the Minnesota Gophers to a 4-3 victory over UMass in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and a date with #1 seed Western Michigan with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line Sunday afternoon. There will be a new NCAA Champion in hockey in 2022.
Minnesota got off to a bit of a slow start and it nearly cost them the game. After both teams had a few early chances a delayed penalty was called on Minnesota’s Ryan Johnson for cross-checking. The Gophers could not get possession of the puck to tough up and get the whistle blown and UMass took advantage of an extra minute of 6x5 advantage which led to the first goal of the game by Reed Lebster. He took a nice pass in the center of the slot and fluttered it it past Gopher goalie Justen Close to put the Minutemen up 1-0. The goal was reviewed as it appeared that a UMass player was in the crease and potentially interfered with the vision of Close, which as the rulebook states should have been a penalty, but the NCHC referee crew allowed the goal. The Minutemen still got to take the power play as well and just 56 seconds later struck again. Former Gopher Garrett Wait found a rebound in front of Close of a Bobby Trivigno shot and it bounced off his skate and in to the net to give UMass a 2-0 lead.
Minnesota needed something to happen in the worst way and they got it with 1:58 left in the first period. Mathew Knies found a streaking Ryan Johnson coming into the zone. His shot was blocked by Minutemen goalie Matt Murry but the rebound bounced off a UMass defender and back into the goal to cut the lead to 2-1. That’s how the first period would end.
U Mass would strike early in the second period to take a 3-1 lead as Lebster put his second in the game past Close just 1:24 into the period. There was a scramble in front of the Gopher net and Close thought he found the loose puck and covered it up. He did not. Lebster found it and put it in for the two goal lead.
Minnesota didn’t look great for most of the early portions of the second but finally seemed to pick up some momentum as the period waned. Tristan Broz would cut the Minutemen lead back down to a single goal as he tipped in a gorgeous shot from Jaxon Nelson with 2:51 left in the second.
That’s how the second period would end with a 3-2 UMass lead.
Minnesota needed to come pout and not let UMass push their lead back to two goals in the third period. They played good defense and seemed to have an extra step they did not have the first two periods. The Gophers got their first power play of the game just 1:11 into the third and only got one shot on goal and it did not look good. But after McLaughlin was dumped in front of the net and Minnesota earned another power play the Gophers did lot let their opportunity go to waste. Minnesota had great puck rotation and Mathew Knies had a great chance in front of the net but whiffed as the puck went through the slot. The next chance he got he did not miss as he took the puck at the left circle and ripped a wrister top shelf past Murray to the tie the game at three with 6:43 left in regulation.
It's a new game, ladies & gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/ny9czuNlDG— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2022
Better look at the snipe from Knies that sent UMass - Minn to OT pic.twitter.com/kw3oHPThR0— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) March 26, 2022
Both teams had good chanced but neither team could score again and the game headed to overtime tied at three.
Minnesota seemed to have the extra step in the overtime and had some great chances. UMass had one as well but Justen Close made a huge glove save to keep the game alive. Then with 11:29 left in the OT session, it was Hobey Baker Finalist Ben Meyers making sure his college career was not done just yet. Freshman Aaron Hugelin came up huge fighting in the corner for the puck as Nelson went off on a line change. Meyers streaked onto the ice and Hugelin found him cutting to the front of the net where he put the puck top shelf over Murray and kept Minnesota’s season alive.
LETS HEAR THAT ROUSER BB 〽️ pic.twitter.com/aI73GnYZ7p— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2022
Radio call of the year pic.twitter.com/jhlTEFGdAy— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2022
Minnesota now advances to the Worcester Region Final where they will face #1 seed Western Michigan. The Broncos advanced 2-1 in overtime over Northeastern after the best goalie in the nation Devon Levi for Northeastern misplayed a puck behind his own net and appeared to make an incredible save to keep his team alive, but in stead pulled the puck back over the goal line as the Broncos won.
"HE MADE A BUTT SAVE" - this ends up being the winning goal for Western Michigan in OT on the wraparound pic.twitter.com/L7KxEcm0zf— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) March 25, 2022
The overhead view of the WMU OT winner pic.twitter.com/j21DElt1TH— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) March 25, 2022
Minnesota and Western Michigan will face off for only the second time in the programs' history and the first time since a semifinal meeting in an tournament in Anchorage, Alaska back in 1988. That game will face-off at 3PM on Sunday afternoon and will air on ESPN2. The winner will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four in Boston.
We will have a full preview of the Minnesota/Western Michigan game late Saturday or early Sunday here on the blog.