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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers top St. Cloud State 4-1 in Fargo Regional Final, advance to Frozen Four

The Gophers overcome undisciplined penalties, Jackson LaCombe leads Minnesota to Frozen Four for a second year in a row

The No. 1-seeded University of Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team put their penalty kill to the ultimate test of the season against the St. Cloud State Huskies in the Fargo Regional Final inside Scheels Arena on Saturday night. And the penalty kill succeeded.

Similarly to their 9-2 win over Canisius on Thursday night, the Gophers kept things dicey early on due to mistakes and undisciplined plays they can’t afford to allow happen moving forward if they want to win their first national title since 2003. The Gophers committed five penalties in the game.

After Matthew Knies committed an uncharacteristic penalty, the Huskies scored on the ensuing power play about three minutes into the second period to tie the game. It erased the Gophers 1-0 lead that had been established at the 13:20 mark of the first period when Bryce Brodzinski scored his fourth goal of the tournament from in front of the net.

There’s no doubt the Gophers must tighten up ahead of their National Semifinal tilt against Boston University on April 6. But the Gophers went back to work, recovered and scored three more times in front of the 5,326 fans en route to their 4-1 win that punched their ticket to Tampa for their second straight Frozen Four appearance.

In fact, not only did the Gophers go 4-for-5 on the penalty kill, but goaltender Justen Close stopped 27 of 28 shots (.966 save percentage) in his 25th win of the year. Close saved many Grade-A chances in the win, which included a shorthanded breakaway in the first period.

The Gophers took a 2-1 lead around the midway point of the middle frame when Jackson LaCombe executed a perfect stretch pass to the tape of Logan Cooley’s stick, and the electric 18-year-old center beat Jaxon Castor five hole.

It marked Cooley’s 15th straight game to register a point. Cooley is up to 20 goals and 57 points on the year. Then Jackson LaCombe scored the dagger with 8:16 left in the game. Right off the draw, LaCombe one-timed the puck past Castor glove side with Knies affecting his vision.

With 31 seconds left, Jaxon Nelson sealed the deal with an empty net goal for his ninth goal of the season.

Other Notes

Connor Kurth didn’t play due to a lower-body injury, and Colin Schmidt was a healthy scratch. Charlie Strobel and Garrett Pinoniemi entered the lineup for them.

The Gophers outshot SCSU 30-28 and held a 25-18 edge in the blocked shots department while the Huskies won 53% in the faceoff circle.

Gophers’ Top Fargo Regional scoring leaders: Brodzinski (4-1-5), Cooley (1-4-5), LaCombe (1-2-3) and Nelson (1-2-3).

— Brodzinski, Cooley and LaCombe were named to the 2023 Fargo Regional All-Tournament Team.