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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers Nearly Sweep Big Ten Awards

Minnesota has the Big Ten’s Coach, Defenseman, and Player of the Year

The Big Ten Player of the Year
Matt Krohn—

The Big Ten announced their season end awards on Tuesday and as you would expect a team that won the conference by nineteen points over the second place team the Minnesota Gophers took home a lot of hardware. Minnesota representatives were named the Big Ten Coach of the Year, Big Ten defensive Player of the Year, and Big Ten Player of the Year. The Gophers had three of the six players on both the All-Big Ten First and Second Teams, and three of the five players named to the All- Big Ten Freshman Team. There will be a rather large and heavy box of trophies being sent from the Big Ten offices to the Minnesota Hockey offices in the near future.

Mathew Knies was awarded the Big Ten Player of the Year for his efforts on Tuesday. The Gopher sophomore is the second consecutive Gopher to win the award after Ben Meyers last season, and the fourth overall in conference history. Knies leads the NCAA with seven game winning goals, all of which have been scored against teams ranked in the top 15 of the national polls, including three in overtime. The Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick currently ranks sixth nationally with 21 goals and has scored in 19 of Minnesota’s 35 games played. When Knies scores a goal, the Gophers usually win with a record of 17-2-0 when he hits the back of the net. Knies also was named First Team All-Big Ten after being a Second Team selection last spring.

Brock Faber was named the Big Ten defensive layer of the Year for the second consecutive season. He is just the second player in league history to bring home the award in back-to back seasons along with fellow Gopher Mike Reilly. Not only is Faber one of the best defensive defensemen in the Big Ten, if not all of college hockey, but he is having a career year offensively in his junior season. The Minnesota Wild prospect has recorded a a career-best 23 points with four goals and 19 assists, while leading Minnesota to the top of the national rankings as the team’s captain and a B1G-best 2.23 goals against per game. This is his second consecutive All-Big Ten First Team honor joining Reilly as the only Gopher to be named First Team more than once in a Gopher career.

Bob Motzko was named the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year for the third time in the past four seasons. Minnesota’s Big Ten season was the most dominant in the history of the conference. Minnesota claimed its sixth regular season title, by a 19-point margin, becoming the first team to ever win the championship by double-digit points and won the season series against all six conference foes.

Joining Knies and Faber on the All-Big Ten First Team was freshman center Logan Cooley. The Arizona Coyotes draft pick has lived up to the hype his Freshman season in the maroon and gold. Cooley has been an offensive force this season for the Gophers. He leads the team with 50 points, which ranks fourth nationally. He is the first Minnesota freshman to hit the 50-point mark since Phil Kessel had 51 during the 2005-06 season, while his 36 points in 23 B1G outings earned the title of scoring co-champion with fellow Gopher Freshman Jimmy Snuggerud. Cooley has scored at least one point in 28 of his 34 games played this year and is currently riding a season-long, 12-game point streak which is the longest active streak in the country. Cooley’s 32 assists rank second in the NCAA . He also ranks third in the country with five game-winning goals, with all five coming in the last 20 games played. When he lights the lamp, good things happen for the Gophers as they are a perfect 14-0-0 record when he scores a goal. Cooley obviously was also named to the All-Freshman Team and lost out on Big Ten Freshman of the Year to Michigan’s Adam Fantilli.

Minnesota also had a trio of players on the All-Big Ten Second Team. Fellow star freshman Jimmy Snuggerud earned second team honors after sharing the Big Ten scoring lead with 36 points in 24 games with Cooley. He like Cooley has been instant offense for Minnesota. Snuggerud has 20 goals this season which are tied for the second-most of any rookie in the country. He is just the fourth Gophers’ freshman since 1999 to reach the 20-goal mark as he has eight goals in his last 11 games and has scored points in 26 of his 34 games played. His 48 points rank him fifth in the nation. The St. Louis Blues prospect leads the Gophers with seven goals on the power and is currrently on a nine-game point streak.

Senior defenseman Jackson LaCombe earns second team honors making him the only three-Time All Big Ten defenseman in league history. He earned First Team honors as a sophomore and second team honors the past two seasons. LaCombe is the second-highest scoring B1G defenseman, and sixth in the nation, with a career-best 31 points, despite missing the previous two weeks to injury. He will sign with the Anaheaim Ducks at the end of the season.

Senior goalie Justen Close is a major reason why Minnesota had the season it has. Despite leading the league in nearly every statistical category, Close was named to the All-B1G Second Team with Notre Dame’s Ryan Boschel taking the Big ten Goalie of the Year and First Team honors. Close’s goals against average (1.95), wins (23) and shutouts (6) all are the best in the conference and rank in the top four nationally, while his save percentage of .929 is literally a couple of saves away from the nation’s leader (.933) and third in the NCAA. When the bright lights come on, Close shows up as he has a 1.94 GAA when facing a top-15 program and a 2.01 mark in battles against the top 10. Close was an Honorable Mention All-B1G selection a season ago and ranks seventh in program history totaling nine shutouts in 50 career starts.

Joining Cooley and Snuggerud on the All-Freshman team was defenseman Luke Mittelstadt. The Eden prairie native has scored a pair of goals and 15 assists on the season and ranks second among B1G freshmen defensemen in points with 17. Mittelstadt has produced 15 points in 22 conference contests and currently holds a plus-17 rating overall,

Earning both All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors and being named Minnesota’s Big Ten Sportmanship nominee was senior defenseman Ryan Johnson. The Buffalo Sabres prospect is one of the most versatile and consistent players along the blue line for Minnesota and earned his second honorable mention honor from the league, having been named to the team as a sophomore in 2020-21.

These Gophers and the rest of the team have already won one trophy and banner this season but have a chance to add a second Saturday night. Minnesota hosts Michigan in a rematch of last season’s Big Ten Championship game on the same ice sheet 364 days later for the same prize. This time the Gophers will look to be the ones celebrating at the end of the night unlike last season when Michigan jumped out to a 4-1 lead and hung on to win 4-3 despite a pair of Knies goals in the final minute of the game.

Minnesota will either be the #1 or #2 overall NCAA Tournament seed when the field is announced Sunday depending on the results of this game, and how current #2 Quinnipiac fairs in the ECAC Tournament this weekend. A Gopher lost paired with a Quinnipiac sweep for the ECAC crown likely flips the two schools in the Pairwise and would give the Bobcats the chance to play the lowest seeded team in the tournament in the opening round.

Saturday night’s game is sold out, and will air live on Big Ten network at 7 PM.