It is now back-to-back trips to the NCAA Frozen Four for the Minnesota men’s hockey team thanks to a decisive, 4-1 win over No. 6 St. Cloud State in the 2023 NCAA Fargo Regional Final from Scheels Arena. The No. 1 Golden Gophers are making their 23rd trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, this year in Tampa, Fla., behind multi-point efforts from Logan Cooley, Jackson LaCombe and Jaxon Nelson in front of a record-setting crowd Saturday.
In a region that featured all three NCAA Tournament teams from the State of Hockey, it was those clad in Maroon and Gold that proved to be the best. Cooley broke a 1-1 tie scoring on a breakaway in the second period for the game winner, while LaCombe and Nelson added insurance tallies during the third as all three skaters had a goal and an assist. Minnesota (28-9-1 overall) earned its NCAA-best 12th victory over a top-10 team this season and second against the in-state Huskies (25-13-3 overall).
It was the top-seeded Gophers that came out with its legs moving as three different lines all generated quality scoring chances in the opening four minutes. The speed of Mason Nevers drew a power play 4:16 into the contest, but a crucial save from Justen Close negated a Huskies shorthanded breakaway. That let Bryce Brodzinski stay dialed in at the 6:40 mark and score his fourth of the weekend, putting Minnesota in front, 1-0. Nelson carried the puck below the goal line and fed his fellow senior with a perfect pass in the slot where the Blaine, Minn., native buried the go-ahead tally. The Gophers continued to dominate the period and took their one-goal edge into intermission, erasing two SCSU man advantages and held a 14-6 edge in shots.
Close delivered another huge save 30 seconds after the puck was dropped for the second frame and back-to-back penalties on the Maroon and Gold allowed the Huskies to pull even on the power play 3:07 into the stanza. Less than three minutes later, Minnesota turned to its playmakers to push ahead, 2-1, as Cooley skated in alone on the SCSU net thanks to a brilliant outlet pass from LaCombe. The senior intercepted a Huskies pass at the hash marks in his defensive zone and fired the puck up the middle of the ice to a streaking Cooley, who finished off his 20th goal of the year.
The Gophers were sent to the penalty box mere minutes into the final period and came through with a critical penalty kill backstopped by Close as SCSU turned up the pressure. Minnesota continued to keep the sixth-ranked Huskies at bay and won an offensive zone faceoff with 8:16 to play in regulation. LaCombe teed off on the rolling puck and it found its way to the back of the net after Cooley, the NCAA leader in assists, cleanly won the draw back to the Eden Prairie, Minn., product.
Nelson put the finishing touches on the Huskies with 31 to play as he banked a clearance high off the glass and into an empty net. That sent the bench and heavily pro-Gopher crowd into a frenzy as the Minnesota Rouser echoed throughout the arena.
Close came up with four saves in the final 69 seconds after SCSU pulled its goalie to preserve the win, 4-1. For the night, the senior made 27 saves, including 13 during the third period for his 25th victory this season.
2023 NCAA Fargo Regional All-Tournament Team
F – Bryce Brodzinski (MINN, Most Outstanding Player)
F – Logan Cooley (MINN)
F – Veeti Miettinen (SCSU)
D – Jack Peart (SCSU)
D – Jackson LaCombe (MINN)
G – Jaxon Castor (SCSU)
With Cooley (20) joining Matthew Knies (21) and Jimmy Snuggerud (21) in the 20-goal club, the Gophers have three that have hit the milestone in the same season since 2001-02 when Jeff Taffe (34), John Pohl (27) and Jordan Leopold (20) did the feat during their national championship run … Brodzinski increased his already career-best goal total to 19 with his 10th goal over the last 13 games … Nelson was in vintage form Saturday using his size and speed to dominate possession as the senior has picked up at least one point in three of his last four outings … Cooley extended his point streak to 15 games, totaling 30 in that span, and has six-straight outings with multiple points, including a goal in four of the last five … LaCombe’s two points moved the senior ahead of Alex Goligoski (2004-07) and into a tie with Tom Pederson (1987-91) for 13th on the all-time points by a defenseman list at 99, recording his 35th points this season … Minnesota entered the game as the third-least penalized team in the nation (7.5 penalty minutes per game), but was whistled for four penalties in the first 23 minutes of play and five total … The sellout crowd of 5,326 was the 23rd sellout of the year for the Gophers and the largest attendance in the history of the NCAA Fargo Regional.
Next Up: NCAA Frozen Four (Apr. 6)
Minnesota’s run is extended into the national semifinals where it will face Boston University, the winner of the NCAA Manchester Regional. The NCAA Frozen Four is scheduled for April 6 live on ESPN2 inside Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
Regional MOP Bryce Brodzinski with MNN sports director Mike Grimm:
Gopher senior Jaxon Nelson of Magnolia spoke to MNN sports director Mike Grimm:
Minnesota freshman forward Brody Lamb of Byron spoke to MNN sports director Mike Grimm after the game:
Gopher senior Ryan Johnson discusses the Frozen Four berth with MNN sports director Mike Grimm:
(info courtesy of Gopher Sports)
(photo credits – Kelly Hagenson)