The Minnesota Gophers will try and win NCAA Championship #6 in program history on Saturday night in Tampa, Florida. The Gophers will face Quinnipiac University from Hamden, Connecticut. The Bobcats are the champions of the ECAC and are ranked #2 in the nation. The last two times the Gophers faced a highly ranked ECAC team in the NCAA Championship game...well it didn’t go so well for the Gophers. Third time’s the charm for Minnesota to prove it really is the best team in the country.
The Gophers advanced to the NCAA Championship game after eliminated Boston University 6-2 in the semifinals on Thursday. The Gophers had zero puck luck hitting three posts, having one goal overturned for goaltenders interference, and having another that quite possibly did cross over the goal line not called a goal. Despite that they got a pair of goals early in the third period from freshman defenseman Luke Mittelstadt that turned a 2-2 tie game into a 4-2 Minnesota lead. Fellow freshman Logan Cooley would pot a pair of empty net goals to seal the deal and advance the Gophers back to the NCAA Championship game for the first time since 2014.
Quinnipiac was the #2 overall seed and was facing the #3 overall seed in Michigan, but the vast majority of the fans and pundits into the game thought it would be a fairly big upset if the Bobcats could break up what was destined to be an All-Big Ten final. Well, it wasn’t. Quinnipiac showed why they were the 32 overall seed in dominating the Wolverines in the third period and taking a 2-2 tie game and turning it into a 5-2 win. The Bobcats banked in a pair of goals from behind the net off of Wolverines goalie Eric Portillo and make him look silly on their fourth goal on a shot from the point. Their vaunted 1-1-3 trap shut down a high powered Michigan offense in the final period and slowly choked the life out of the Wolverines season. Minnesota will need do work hard to avoid a similar fate Saturday night.
Quinnipiac can kill you with a smothering defense, or blow past you with an electric offense. Their star is their goalie, Yanev Perets. A sophomore who was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the best goalie in the country, he currently leads the nation in winning percentage (.859), goals-against average (1.48) and shutouts (10) and is second nationally in save percentage (.932). He is more than capable of stealing a game for his team and leading them to a title.
Of course the Gophers have a goalie of their own like that in Justen Close. he is 4th in the nation in save percentage (.928), goals against average (1.99), third in shutouts (6), and second in winning percentage (.736).
Offensively the Bobcats bring in a slew of 5th year seniors who returned to win a title before they move on. Ethan DeJong will set the record for the most games played with one team in Saturday’s championship game with 184. He’s third on the team with 40 points, and his 19 goals are just one off the team lead. That would be held by Collin Graf with 20. He leads Quinnipiac in points with 58 on the season and is their offensive sniper. he has taking the most shots on the team with 113, and scores on 17.7% of them. He leads the team with eight power play goals and his 58 points rank him third i the nation in scoring behind Adam Fantilli and Cooley.
Defensively the Bobcats have perfected a 1-1 3 trap. They play similarly to a Minnesota State team that has knocked out the Gophers from the tournament the past two seasons, but with more skill.
Pecknold: I actually call it a 1-1-3. It's just verbiage. But I think we're really good at it. We have discipline with it. Causes teams a lot of frustration and problems.— Eric Vegoe (@evegoe) April 7, 2023
Minnesota put assistant coach Steve Miller on the scot of the Bobcats, and he is one of the best in the nation at being able to break down a team.
#Gophers Motzko on Assistant Coach Steve Miller scouting for tomorrow: He just said, I'm out of here. And he gets his own room. He doesn't stay with his family. He's a machine. And you let him go. He's a computer. And he's working his tail off. And these guys know it.— Eric Vegoe (@evegoe) April 7, 2023
Statistically these two teams are nearly a dead heat. Minnesota leads the nation in scoring at 4.26 goals per game, Quinnipiac is 4th and 3.98. The Bobcats are 31 in the nation in defense allowing just 1.55 goals per game, the Gophers are #6 at 2.23. Minnesota is #3 in the nation on the power play at 27.21%, but have been even better in the NCAA Tournament clicking at a 46.6% rate. Quinnipiac is 16th in the country at 22.84%. The Bobcats are #4 in the nation on the penalty kill at 86.49 and have not allowed a power play goal in the NCAA Tournament in nine kills. Minnesota is 14th at 83.02% and have allowed two power play goals in 12 chances in the NCAA Tournament. Both teams are in the top three least penalized teams in the nation, and with a NCHC refereeing crew on Saturday night, this game is most likely going to be won 5x5.
Minnesota needs to play their game. They can not play Quinnpiac’s game and expect to win. The Gophers need to get through the neutral zone trap, and get pucks deep into the zone behoind the Bobcat defensemen. Use their attacking forecheck to foce Quinnipiac mistakes in their own defensive zone and attack when given the chances. NO PRETTY STUFF. Your chances will be limited in this type of game. If you have a shooting lane, shoot the puck. Don’t try and make the perfect pass if a shot is there.
The Gophers need to try and score first and play with a lead. Quinnipiac is one of the best teams in the nation at sitting on a lead as they showed on Thursday. Both teams have impressive records when leading after two periods—the Gophers are 22-0 and the Bobcats are 28-1-3. Getting a lead and playing smart and making he other team adapt to your game in the third period is how this game will be won.
Three goals is the magic number. If you can get to three, you probably win the game. Quinnipiac has not given up three goals since January 28th. When Minnesota scores 3 or more goals they are 27-5. Two or less? 1-4-1. Quinnipiac is 4-1 when allowing three goals, but 0-2-1 when allowing four or more. If the Gophers allow three or less—26-3-1. Get to three goals. You might need to win 4-3, but get to three goals and you probably don’t lose in regulation at the very least.
This team has the talent. This team has the coaching. This team has the heart. This team has the leadership. Time to finish the job and get revenge for the 1989 team. Time to finish the job and get revenge for the 2014 team. Time to end twenty years of heartbreaking losses, close calls, disappointment, and FINISH THE JOB!
HOW TO WATCH: NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#2 Quinnipiac Bobcats vs #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay, Florida
When: 7 PM Saturday
Stream: Watch ESPN/ ESPN+