Michigan tops Gophers in Big Ten Men’s Hockey Championship Game

No. 1 Minnesota men’s hockey could not hold a third-period lead, suffering a 4-3 loss in the Big Ten Conference Championship game versus No. 4 Michigan Saturday from 3M Arena at Mariucci. Logan Cooley had a goal and an assist, while Rhett Pitlick tallied a highlight-reel goal that put the Maroon and Gold ahead two minutes into the final frame.

The Golden Gophers (26-9-1 overall) failed to fend off the No. 2 seed Wolverines (24-11-3 overall), dropping the championship game by the same scoreline as a season ago. It snapped a five-game winning streak for Minnesota, that will enter the NCAA Regionals as the No. 1 overall seed for next week’s tournament.

You couldn’t ask for a more electric atmosphere at puck drop inside 3M Arena at Mariucci as the volume was deafening for the powerhouse, top-four matchup. That reached an even higher level when the Gophers freshmen provided a spark 6:52 into the action. Brody Lamb started the play blocking a shot inside his own zone then buried a Cooley feed during a 2-on-1 break the other way, putting the Maroon and Gold in front, 1-0, and it maintained the one-goal edge through the opening period.

Minnesota stopped an early Michigan attack beginning the second frame before the Wolverines scored twice in a span of 34 seconds, less than four minutes into the period, to flip momentum. The visitors took advantage of a rebound in the slot and a fortuitous bounce off the end boards for the lead. The advantage lasted just seven minutes as the Gophers top line went to work and Cooley blasted home a perfect Jimmy Snuggerud pass for his 19th goal of the campaign. Matthew Knies tipped away a visitors pass that sprung Snuggerud in the neutral zone, leading to the tying tally.

Less than a minute later, Knies skated around the Michigan defense and was tripped, sending Minnesota to its second man advantage, that was again negated. Snuggerud rang a wrister off the right post late and Bryce Brodzinski skated in all alone in the closing seconds but was stopped from point-blank range as the teams went to locker room deadlock, 2-2.

The Wolverines came out flying in the final frame only to be denied on a 3-on-1 by a diving Luke Mittelstadt and the stout goaltending of Justen Close. That helped the Gophers turn the tide as Pitlick dazzled, scoring the goal of the year, with an ankle-breaking move to drop a Michigan player before rifling in the go-ahead goal 1:57 into the period. Michigan answered back, pulling even with a shot from the point that found its way through traffic and was upheld after a challenge for offsides. Another unlucky bounce on its home ice six minutes later led to a goal for the visitors at the 11:46 mark that proved to be the deciding goal.

The capacity crowd made its displeasure known as Cooley was wrestled to the ice following a quality scoring opportunity in the crease, with no whistle on the play, as the intensity ramped up inside 3M Arena at Mariucci. Minnesota fired shots on net down the stretch with the goalie pulled and were denied as it suffered its first home regulation loss since Nov. 10.

Close and Cooley were named to the B1G All-Tournament Team for their efforts during the tournament.