No. 1 seeded Minnesota won 9-2, with 6 goals in the third period. The team is now one game away from qualifying for the Frozen Four.
Ever seen an avalanche? Maybe one that’s white, but not maroon and gold.
Thursday night in Fargo, for the first period and a half, the shadows of legendary Holy Cross first-round excitement returned from 2006 when the top seeded Minnesota Gophers got everything underdog Canisius Griffins had.
“They overwhelmed us early on, scored some good goals and kept us on our heels for a while,” said Bryce Brodzinski, who scored the second hat-trick of the Gophers season. Jimmy Snuggerud scored the opening goal in a 4-1 win over Minnesota State-Mankato in early October.
Gophers head coach Bob Motzko described that game, which ended 9-2, as the closest game he had ever seen.
Just like the Gophers for most of the season, they weren’t a first-period team at all on Thursday. Minnesota was visibly shaken early in the game, spinning the pucks left and right in the neutral zone.
The finish of the first of several ticky tock penalties against the Gophers increased Canisius’ momentum. The Griffins’ Daniel DiGrande completed a slapshot just as gopher Connor Kurth returned to the ice from a hook call and the game was level at 1-1.
Five minutes later, Griffin Nick Bowman made an excellent move that put him #2 on the SportsCenter top 10 by maneuvering the puck between gopher Colin Schmidt’s legs and firing a wrister to the top left shelf. Schmidt made his first game appearance for Minnesota since the last series of the regular season against Ohio State almost a month ago.
Canisius suddenly had a surprising 2-1 lead in this David vs. Goliath affair. Five minutes passed and passed; Slowly but surely, the game began to make sense for the Gophers.
It started with a great performance from Aaron Huglen, who managed to lock in an open puck being pursued by two Griffins and level. Huglen’s line continued to bail Minnesota out of the doldrums, and Kurth scored his seventh goal of the season to give the Gophers their first lead since the 11-minute mark of the first period.
“We tried early on to do things ourselves and score goals like that,” said Brodzinski. “The boys were a bit frustrated, though [Brock] Faber is a great leader and he kind of allowed us to stick together and play our game in the dressing room.”
Motzko said the long TV timeouts and extended breaks were key to calming the team down and settling in during the game. Unlike the regular season, there is more than one TV timeout in each period during the NCAA tournament.
“We stuck with it,” said Motzko. “I had to cut the bench tonight, I didn’t do that often. We had to play a grind game and we’re getting better at it.”
After a game-changing five-minute major was called out by Canisius’ Stefano Bottini for header contact against Jackson LaCombe, Minnesota not only stuck by, they let the Atlantic Hockey Conference champions run under the ice sheet at Scheels Arena.
Snuggerud was the first to contribute to the heavy 6-goal avalanche in the third half, which benefited the Gophers’ unusually calm topline. Logan Cooley managed to provide three assists during the period that Matthew Knies was without a point that night.
Two of Cooley’s assists were Brodzinski, who scored a hat-trick in the last 10 minutes of the game. Even more impressive, Brodzinski had nearly 4 lamplighters, with one goal recalled, before scoring 2 more to end the contest.
Mason Nevers and Brody Lamb also contributed to the beatdown. Lamb is on a 2-game scoring streak after not scoring since late October.
“We took the lead at the end of the second, so every puck had to go deep,” said Motzko. “If they kill [the five-minute major] out, we have a hockey game to the end and Snuggy picks one up…we follow up with another…then it loosens up.
Minnesota plays St. Cloud State in the Fargo Regional Final at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. The Huskies beat the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks 4-0 Thursday afternoon while firing 13 fewer shots on target. If the Gophers are victorious, they will advance to their second straight Frozen Four.
“They’re a solid team,” Aaron Huglen said of the Gophers’ rival, with whom they are tied 1-1 this season. “The coach said after the game they’re going to try to turn us off offensively so we just have to bring it to them, play smart… chip away.”