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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers overcome two-goal deficit en route to 5-2 win, sweep over Buckeyes

The Gophers didn’t need the power play on senior night with four even strength goals after Ohio State scored back to back power play markers to start the scoring

MINNEAPOLIS — The No. 1 University of Minnesota Gophers hockey team (19-4-1, 25-8-1) learned a valuable lesson in their 5-2 come from behind win on senior night against the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes inside 3M Arena At Mariucci on Saturday night after a pair of major penalties almost sent them going into the playoffs with a loss.

Matthew Knies (contact to the head) and Jimmy Snuggerud (boarding) committed five-minute major penalties on the same play with three minutes and 53 seconds left in a scoreless first period. The penalties were “uncharacteristic,” according to head coach Bob Motzko. Knies described the infractions as “brutal” and said he apologized to the team for it.

However, it did encapsulate the physical brand of hockey played in the series, although tempers were especially flaring in the regular season finale. Bryce Brodzinski went as far as calling it a playoff game.

Both Cole McWard and Mason Lohrei scored on the ensuing two-man advantage. The first goal came with 3.4 seconds left in the first and then the Buckeyes scored again roughly a minute into the second period to take a 2-0 lead.

“We let our emotions get away from us there for a few minutes and then thank goodness we were able to overcome it,” Motzko said.

“You can’t do that in the playoffs.”

You know what they say about hockey’s worst lead. The Rhett Pitlick-Aaron Huglen-Connor Kurth line is making strides as of late. But Huglen, especially, is on the rise — and he finally was rewarded in the goal scoring department. Huglen fired the puck past Jakub Dobes blocker side from the slot after Pitlick picked up the puck from behind the net.

It was “about time” the puck went in for Huglen, Knies said, because of how many offensive chances he’s had recently.

“We weathered a storm,” Motzko said. “We needed one to get the crowd going and once that came, we picked it back up.”

Brodzinski said they need Huglen for their playoff run, so they’re “excited” to see him heating up. Just 13 seconds later, Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies connected on the rush to tie the game. Knies cashed in on Snuggerud’s rebound with Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas in the house.

Then the Gophers took their first lead of the game with 33 seconds left in the second period when Knies made an impressive between the legs pass to Logan Cooley behind him. The freshman center, who Knies said was barking for the puck, somehow found room to sneak it past Dobes for a 3-2 lead.

“If I’m in front of the net, there’s no way I’m making that play – like shoot the puck,” Brodzinski said of Knies, “and then Cooley gets it, and he has nowhere to shoot it, and he still scores a goal. It’s kind of ridiculous just how skilled they are. It’s not fair.”

Cooley finishes the regular season as the Gophers highest point producer with 48 points while Knies (46) and Snuggerud (39) right behind him. Knies’ 21 goals lead the Gophers and is tied for third in NCAA scoring this season.

Brodzinski scored his 15th goal of the season on a breakaway with 5:17 left in the game after he intercepted a pass at center ice, which was “pretty cool” since it was on senior night. Ryan Johnson later scored an empty net goal from the defensive zone for insurance to give Minnesota a 5-2 lead. Motzko said the pair of late goals gave them some “breathing room” in their seventh win in the past eight games.

“I thought we did really good coming back and staying focused,” said Brodzinski, who attributed their success late in games to their competitive nature.

The Gophers celebrated their seniors on Saturday night, one of Motzko’s first recruiting classes — and a group he calls “special.”

“They all got a great story to tell inside that room,” Motzko said. “We’re a really close group, and it starts with that senior class.”

Minnesota is off next week as they await for their opponent for the semifinal game that will take place on March 11th, so the team is heading to Rochester next weekend to get out of town.

“We have to replicate some energy, some game-type situations, and we’re going to do it — not here,” Motzko said. “We have to do everything we can to stay sharp.”