As dangerous as the University of Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team has been all season long, they’ve had their fair share of slow starts, untimely penalties and defensive zone breakdowns.
That’s exactly what the Gophers were guilty of for the first half of the NCAA Fargo Regional semifinal game against Canisius inside Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota. Canisius gave the Gophers a run for their money, causing turnovers, keeping Minnesota mostly to the perimeter and neutralizing one of the most lethal lines in the country in the trio of Matthew Knies-Logan Cooley-Jimmy Snuggerud.
The Gophers, who played in just their third game since February 25, didn’t look like themselves. In fairness, Canisius goaltender Jacob Barczewski looked sharp in the first two periods — especially in the first 20 minutes. Barczewski stopped numerous Grade-A scoring chances, including saves on Knies and Jaxon Nelson in the slot. Barczewski, who finished the game with 26 saves, stopped 16 shots through the first two periods.
After freshman Luke Mittelstadt opened the scoring on the power play from just above the goal line, Canisius countered with two goals of their own to take the lead with 16:37 left on the clock in the middle frame. It started with Daniel DiGrande’s quick one-timer from the left circle, which beat Justen Close five hole just as time expired on Connor Kurth’s hooking infraction. Then Canisius’ Nick Bowman made a slick play by going through the legs of Colin Schmidt before Bowman’s snipe got past Close blocker side for a 2-1 lead.
What an individual effort by Nick Bowman, @GriffsHockey has a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/cavkFV2ETh— Ryan Sikes (@ryan_sikes10) March 24, 2023
But just like so many times this season, it didn’t matter. The Gophers responded.
The Gophers (19-4-1, 27-9-1) are the top ranked team in the nation for a reason. And they showed in the final frame why they’re facing off against St. Cloud State on Saturday with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay.
Aaron Huglen, the team’s glue-guy, took a touch pass from Brody Lamb and fired it past Barczewski after the Gophers’ third line forced a turnover in the neutral zone.
A ROCKET from the Roseau Ram— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 24, 2023
: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/7VnUgLjMEV
Then with 1:56 left in the middle frame, Connor Kurth helped the Gophers reclaim the lead heading into the second intermission with a goal in front after Mike Koster found him from below the goal line.
The Gophers are now 21-0 this season when leading through two periods, and they never looked back en route to a six-goal third period. The scoring surge began after Stefano Bottini received a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head of Gophers defender Jackson LaCombe.
It took Jimmy Snuggerud and the Gophers just 43 seconds to convert on the power play. Snuggerud cleaned up Nelson’s rebound from the bottom of the left circle to take a 4-2 lead. Then Lamb notched his second point of the night when he found room blocker side on Barczewski on the power play. Cooley made a slick play to enter the offensive zone before dishing the puck to Bryce Brodzinski, who made it 6-2 with a laser from the slot.
SICK setup by Cools— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 24, 2023
SNIPE by @bbrodzyy pic.twitter.com/2xcaqyKLiQ
Mason Nevers’ one-timer from the slot delivered the Gophers’ fourth power play goal of the game for a 7-2 lead after another incredible set up from Cooley, who now has 55 points on the year.
SICK setup by Cools part 2! pic.twitter.com/nLyEA9Klo3— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 24, 2023
Brodzinski scored goals No. 8 and 9 in the win for a hat trick. The 22-year-old is fourth on the Gophers with 18 goals on the season.
Despite the Gophers’ top line getting neutralized for much of the game, Minnesota saw their depth shine with seven different players scoring a goal. They’ll need their offense firing on all cylinders as they continue their quest for the national title.