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Minnesota Hockey: Logan Cooley, Matthew Knies lead Gophers sweep over Penn State

The Gophers got some late magic Saturday night in their 3-2 overtime win to earn the sweep ahead of their regular season series finale against Ohio State next weekend

Matt Krohn

Even without top defender and captain Brock Faber, as well as freshman defenseman Ryan Chesley, both out due to injury, the No. 2 Minnesota Gophers hockey team (17-4-1, 23-8-1) prevailed with 7-2 and 3-2 wins over the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions on Friday and Saturday night inside Pegula Ice Arena in the Maroon and Gold’s final road series of the season.

As if Matthew Knies hasn’t done enough this season, he scored both the game tying and overtime winning goals on Saturday night — which completed the Gophers comeback in yet another game where they performed some late magic in the final minute with the goalie pulled.

The Gophers trailed early when Ture Linden capitalized for Penn State 29 seconds into the conference clash on Jackson LaCombe’s defensive zone turnover behind the net along the wall. Rhett Pitlick tied the game on a breakaway roughly two minutes into the middle frame. But the Gophers found themselves down again when Danny Dzhaniyev scored in front with about two minutes left in the game after Minnesota got caught in their own zone.

With less than a minute left and an extra attacker on the ice, Jimmy Snuggerud threw a no-look pass from behind the goal line to Knies who buried it past Penn State’s Liam Souliere from his usual spot a few feet away from the net with 41 seconds left.

That wasn’t enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, who leads the team with 20 goals — which is tied for second in the NCAA — and is in third on the Gophers with 36 points.

A slick spin move and play by Logan Cooley set up Knies for the game winner on a one-timer from the right circle with 2:11 left on the clock in overtime.

That’s a NCAA-leading seven game-winning goals this season for Knies. Justen Close stopped 26 of 28 for a .929 save percentage to keep the Gophers in the contest where Penn State responded well after falling 7-2 roughly 24 hours earlier.

Cooley led the Gophers in their 7-2 offensive onslaught against the Nittany Lions the night before with a five point performance (1-4-5). The Arizona Coyotes prospect continues to reach new levels and is a perfect example of a Swiss Army Knife type player with his dangerous combination of playmaking and scoring ability. Cooley is fourth in NCAA scoring this season with 44 points — one ahead of Snuggerud.

10 players recorded a point in the win with goals from Connor Kurth, Snuggerud x2, Knies, Ryan Johnson, LaCombe and Cooley.

Close finished the game with a .972 save percentage thanks to 35 saves on 36 shots. And despite missing Faber and Chesley, the defensive corps, specifically LaCombe, managed offensively with nine points between the two games — LaCombe (two goals; five points), Luke Mittelstadt (three assists), Johnson (one goal) and Carl Fish (one assist).

The series sweep was exactly the response the Gophers wanted after they fell 3-1 to Wisconsin last weekend, which ended their streak of eight straight games without a regulation loss. Ahead of the weekend, the Gophers earned the Big Ten Conference regular season title thanks to Ohio State’s overtime win over Michigan on Thursday night.

And even though the Gophers hold the No. 1 seed and have a bye in the conference tournament, it’s important that Minnesota is heading into the playoffs on a good note. The Gophers will look to continue their success next weekend and quest for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Minnesota currently stands at the top in the pairwise rankings.