When Jovers men’s hockey coach Bob Mutzko and assistant Garrett Rabbon walked into the DCU’s locker room on Sunday, they heard an unusual version of “Happy Birthday” from a group of players who had introduced them minutes earlier. Gift:
The Gophers’ first trip to the NCAA Frozen Four since 2014.
Behind goals from Matthew Kneiss, Aaron Hooglin and Blake McLaughlin, and a shock 24 blockbuster from Justin Close, second seed Gopher beat top seed Western Michigan 3-0 in the regional final in Worcester (Mass.)
“It’s a perfect birthday present, when you go to Boston, I don’t know if you could ask for more,” Gopher striker Blake McLaughlin said.
Gopher (26-12) will play Minnesota State Mankato in the Frozen Four semifinals at 7:30 p.m. (C) on April 7 in Boston. He will face Denver Michigan in the other semifinals at 4 p.m. ET. National Championship game at 7 p.m. April 9, with a Minnesota team guaranteed to play in it.
“We’re not done yet,” Brock Faber, who spearheaded an impressive defensive effort with five hostile shots plus an assist, said in a post-match ESPN interview.
Ben Myers had assists when the Gophers reached the National Semifinals for the 22nd time. Their last Frozen Four appearance was in 2014 in Philadelphia, when they beat North Dakota with a Justin Hall goal 0.6 seconds before the end of the third inning before falling 7-4 to Union in the title match.
The Gophers will also attempt to end a 19-year drought in the National Championship. Mutzko was a Minnesota State assistant when the team won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
Mutzko said: “It was a really tough weekend for our team. We played hard together in two games as you want and want to do. I couldn’t be more proud of our group.”
Boldness and perseverance were the Gophers’ themes this weekend, and she followed up her run from a two-goal deficit to beat national title defending Massachusetts 4-3 in overtime in the first round by closing in on western Michigan. The Broncos averaged 3.63 goals per game, the fourth highest in the country.
Knies, who was named Player of the Tournament, started scoring in the first half two minutes after breaking off the ice after blocking a shot with his right foot. At 10:11, Faber sprinted off the left wing boards, slid down the goal line and sent a backhand pass to Knys. The new player, who was standing in front of the net, once fired a puck at goalkeeper Brandon Posey to advance a 1-0 gopher.
“He’s a great player, and he’s going to keep getting better too,” Mutzko said of Knies.
The Gophers dominated the territory in the first half, not allowing a shot on target for 12:23 past the Broncos 9-4.
“They made it difficult for us to create anything clean offensively,” said Broncos coach Pat Verschweiler.
West Michigan (26-12-1) came out with much more energy in the second half and appeared to draw 1-1 at 11:16 with defender Rooney Attard’s rebounding goal. However, an offside call eliminated the video review on goal, and showed Broncos striker Max Sassoon entering the area before the disc cleared the blue line.
Just 10 seconds into the third inning, West Michigan forward Ethan Frank crushed Faber, making the Gophers Broncos pay for the power play. Twenty-three seconds later, Myers sent a cross to Hoglin, who once fired the ball into the open net to take a 2–0 lead before Posey slipped.
Western Michigan had a solid game with 3:32 remaining in the third game when defender Matt Stoudacher was whistled for suspension. Verschweiler Bussi pulled in an extra striker before 2:25 from the left, but McLaughlin intercepted a pass and pushed a slow puck into the empty net with 1:57 left to lead 3-0.
McLaughlin’s short-handed dagger kicked off the celebration for Gopher, who impressed their coach with the way they handled playoff hockey.
Mutzko said: “Our determination, our determination – blocking shots and back in defense. … Look at the results yesterday: 1-0, 2-1. You have to earn your way, you won’t. Do it by being nice all the time. Our program is definitely growing on that. .”
Team All Championship
Joining Knies on all-star team were Western Michigan’s Myers and Luke Grainger up front, Gophers’ Jackson Lacombe and Attard in defense, and Knies in goal.
The Star Tribune did not travel to attend this event. This article was written using television broadcasts and video interviews before and/or after the event.
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