Gophers advance to NCAA Frozen Four with 4-1 win over St. Cloud State
It’s 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.