The 2021-22 Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey season came to an end on Thursday night when the Gophers fell 5-1 to Minnesota State in a Frozen Four Semifinal. The Mavericks advance to play Denver for their first NCAA Championship Saturday night. Meanwhile the Gophers will say goodbye to several players and turn their guise to the 2022-23 season.
Minnesota knew it would be a tight checking game and it was from the start. The Mavericks put on pressure that Minnesota has not seen anything the likes of the start the game, but with a few key saves by Justen Close the Gophers withstood the initial onslaught. Minnesota was getting outshot 8-0 until the nine minute mark of the first period when the Gophers pounced on a huge Mavericks mistake. Bryce Brodzinski stole the puck just outside the Mavericks blue line and he and Mathew Knies came into the zone on a 2 on 0 breakaway. Brodzy passed the puck to Knies, who returned it back to Brodzinski who then at the very last second fed it back to Knies who slammed it past Mavericks goalie Dryden McKay to put the Gophers up 1-0 on their first shot on goal.
Unfortunately that would be the highpoint of the night. Both teams had a few good lucks as the rest of the period played out but Minnesota took their 1-0 lead into the locker room.
The second period has been the Gophers Achilles heel in the post season, and once again it reared it’s ugly head. The Gophers came out with more focus then we had seen in the last few games for the first three minutes or so, but could not convert. Then the flip switched. The Mavericks attacked hard and Minnesota struggled to keep up. Minnesota took icings and finally you could feel that the pressure would just be too much. The Mavericks controlled the puck in the Minnesota zone and after a failed clearing attempt they kept the pressure on against a Gopher lineup that had been on the ice way took long. Benton Maass received the puck behind the Minnesota net and with Brock Faber up high after chasing a player with the puck no Minnesota forward dropped back to fill the void on the far side of the net and Maass wrapped around the goal and slipped it past Justen Close to tie the game at 1. Five minutes later it was more of the same as the Mavericks put on incredible pressure and this time it would be Reggie Lutz beating Minnesota’s Sammy Walker to the far post for a wrap around goal past Close to give the Mavericks a 2-1 lead.
The period would end 2-1. Minnesota knew they needed to come out hard in the third period and put pucks on net. The mavericks had been just suffocating any potential Gopher offensive attack and they needed to switch up their mode of offensive play. It didn’t happen. Just 1:57 into the period the Mavericks made it 3-1 when Ondrej Pavel tipped in a Jack McNeely blast from the post past Close. It was a perfect shot and goal, and it pretty much deflated the Gophers.
Minnesota tried to find way to come up with some kind of offensive attack, but it was just shot down time and time again by the crushing MSU defense. The final nail in the coffin came when David Silye put a perfectly placed wrist shot top corner after another Minnesota defensive zone turnover to make the score 4-1 and effectively end any potential thought of a Minnesota comeback. They would add one empty net goal late in the period to finish out the scoring and advance 5-1.
It will be a bitter way for the Gophers career of several players to end. Ben Meyers who is a highly sought unrestricted free agent will sign a pro contract before the weekend is out. Brock Faber likely will sign with the Los Angeles Kings and begin his professional career. Minnesota’s seniors—including captain Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin, Ben Brinkman and others will see their time in a Gopher jersey end as there will just not be roster space available for them next season after Minnesota brings in a large and highly touted freshmen class. If they do not sign professional contracts, expect several to enter the transfer portal to find a place to try and play one last year of college hockey. The biggest questions will be the futures of a trio of Gophers who will have tough decisions as to sign with their professional organization or stay for one more season. Sophomores Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe, and freshman Mathew Knies all will need to decide whether to join the Buffalo Sabres, Anaheim Ducks, or Toronto Maple Leafs organizations respectively, or return for one more year of college seasoning.
Minnesota still may have one highlight from the weekend as Ben Meyers still has a chance to be named the 2022 Hobey Baker Award winner on Friday night. He is one of three finalists along with MSU goalie Dryden McKay and Denver forward Bobby Brink. The award will be handed out in a ceremony that will begin at 5PM Friday night and air live on NHL network and stream on www.hobeybaker.com. Additionally the 2021-22 All-American Teams will be announced during this ceremony where Meyers is likely to be named a First Team All-American and earn his spot in the Mariucci mural.