MINNEAPOLIS — The No. 1/3 Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team went scoreless for 1 hour, 44 minutes and three seconds. That’s the longest duration the Gophers have gone without scoring a goal all season. With the Maroon and Gold’s firepower up front in Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud, among other secondary scorers, it’s a safe bet that it will be the longest scoring drought all season.
The Gophers hadn’t scored since Jaxon Nelson’s go-ahead goal in their New Years Eve exhibition match with Bemidji State. The Maroon and Gold finally scored and ended the drought when Knies got one through goalie Jaxon Castor on the power play for the first time in the series at 3M Arena At Mariucci on Sunday afternoon to earn the non-conference split and 2-1 win over the No. 4 St. Cloud State Huskies in front of a sold out crowd. Castor saved 28 of 30 shots he faced, good for a .933 save percentage — a day after he shutout the Gophers with a 23-save performance.
While the Gophers had plenty of chances in the first two periods, a lot of those opportunities didn’t materialize into anything because of St. Cloud’s durable defensive structure just like the Gophers. And the Gophers committed three penalties in the first period, which limited their offensive zone time. Cooley mentioned how the Huskies “don’t cheat” to generate offense and how they play “simple,” which was a major reason why the Huskies gave them trouble this weekend.
“You got to be ready to play games like that,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “They play a stingy defensive game now and you have to play it because they got guys that can hurt you. We really held them to not much all weekend, and they held us to not much all weekend.”
It was Cooley who threw a shot pass at Knies, who then redirected it past Castor from the low slot in front to get the Gophers on the board for the first time in the series.
It was Knies’ 12th goal and 23rd point of the season, and he now shares the team lead in goals with Snuggerud, who leads the team with 28 points through the first 22 games of the season. Cooley made that play happen and his two-point performance has him one point shy of Snuggerud. Snuggerud and Cooley scored 13 and 14 points, respectively, at the World Juniors Championship. The duo trailed only Connor Bedard, who is expected to be taken 1st overall in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Cooley wasn’t satisfied with the primary assist on the game’s first goal and looked ready to score right out of the gate and especially after Chase Brand tied the game at the 12:04 mark of the third period. While 2021 second round Minnesota Wild draft pick Jack Peart looked good, it was Gophers captain and Wild prospect Brock Faber who assisted on Cooley’s overtime game-winning goal.
“Brock Faber was a beast tonight,” Motzko said. “He may have been the best player on the rink.”
After receiving the pass from Faber, Cooley entered the offensive zone and skated to the right circle before taking a trip west through the slot and to the bottom of the left circle where he patiently waited until he shot the puck top shelf to secure the win.
“Obviously I didn’t want it to go to overtime,” Cooley said of the winning goal. “I couldn’t even feel my legs anymore. It was a great defensive play by Faber (and) he got it up to me. I saw a defender slid on both knees, tried to take it lateral and luckily it went in.”
It was the perfect way to get Motzko his 100th win behind the Gophers bench.
In hindsight, the Gophers didn’t play their best game by any means, but they had players returning from the World Juniors and also dealt with illness this past week.
“With what happened to us this week, it affected our game but it didn’t affect how hard we played,” Motzko said. “We had eight guys down with, we think, food poisoning. No excuse, that’s why I’m mentioning it because our guys just sucked it up, plus the four guys coming back. Adversity, you got to handle it, and I give our guys a ton of credit.”
How did the team deal with food poisoning?
“We just don’t eat,” said Justen Close, who saved 21 of 22 shots in the win. And Motzko said he’s going to lock up the gear of the players who went to the WJC.
The 16-6 Gophers play next weekend on the road for a Big Ten conference series against Notre Dame.
“We still play so many young guys to learn how to be in games like that,” Motzko said of Sunday afternoon’s game. “Our compete level was tremendous all weekend, real happy with how we competed.”