Gophers Beat Michigan State University 5-1 To Advance To The Big Ten Championship

March 11th, 2023: The Gophers’ depth carried them to a 5-1 victory over Michigan State, advancing Minnesota to the Big Ten Championship.

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Minneapolis, MINN – There were some question marks coming into the Gophers’ first playoff game of the year. Tonight’s game marked two weeks since Minnesota last played a game. They also didnt know the health of some players. 

Ryan Chesley hasn’t played a game in 27 straight days, Garrett Pinoniemi hasn’t played in 20 days, Jackson LaCombe missed last weekend with a lower-body injury that was suffered in practice, and Brock Faber missed two games with an upper-body injury but was sidelined this week with a sickness, a bad one. 

But the question marks were removed when the Gophers lineup came out. Chesley, Pinoniemi, and Faber all slotted in. LaCombe stayed out but is listed day-to-day. 

The last time the Gophers had a week off of gameplay they opened back up against Wisconsin and played some of their worst hockey of the year. This time, the Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said they wouldn’t do anything they did last week off this go around. 

To keep them fresh the Gophers went to Rochester, Minnesota, to play an inter-squad scrimmage and practice. They were overwhelmed with the number of fans that came out to support them, as it was much needed. 

The Gophers have always had Michigan State’s number, especially recently. Minnesota has beaten the Spartans in 13 straight contests dating back to 2020. Tonight, the Gophers made it 14.

Michigan State got on the board first when Logan Cooley went to the box for elbowing. This sent Michigan State to the power play for the first time tonight. On the year the Spartans had the second-worst power play in the Big Ten and the Gophers had the second-best penalty kill. 

Unfortunately for the Gophers, Michigan State boosted their power play a bit and lowered Minnesota’s penalty kill. Jeremy Davidson got the goal for the Spartans off a feed from Miroslav Mucha. Nash Nienhuis picked up the secondary assist on the goal as well. 

The Gophers answered with a power play goal of their own. Matthew Knies controlled the puck down low to the left of Dylan St. Cyr after catching a pass from Mike Koster. Knies then fed one to Jaxon Nelson in the slot for a one-timer. Nelson ripped home his eighth goal of the year to tie the game at 1-1.

Not long after Ryan Chesley fired a shot that deflected off John Mittelstadt in front of the net which beat St. Cyr, giving the Gophers a 2-1 lead. Which they carried into the second period. 

Just two minutes into the second period Aaron Huglen was right on the doorstep, extending the Gophers’ lead to 3-1. Rhett Pitlick sent one to the high blue line for Cal Thomas who fired one through a Connor Kurth screen. The shot bounced right to Huglen who made no mistake and banged home his sixth of the year. 

The thing about the Gophers is you can’t just try to shut down their top line because of how much depth scoring they have. This year the Gophers are the only team in all of the NCAA with four or more 15-goal scorers. 

“There is no question the Knies, Cooley, and Snuggerud line get all the attention from teams and they deserve it,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “If we are going to win, it’s going to have to be with our depth.”

About seven minutes later Koster fed Brock Faber who spun around a defender and passed one to Cooley at the high slot. Cooley regathered and fired a shot from up high that banged off the boards. The bounce off the boards went right in the back of the net off St. Cyr. 

Sometimes you get nice bounces and sometimes you don’t. Nobody in college hockey has been hotter than Logan Cooley so of course that one went in. Cooley now has six goals in his last ten games. But that’s not even the most impressive thing. In that span, Cooley has 20 total points. 

Cooley added another one with four minutes left in the game on an empty net goal. It came when Chesley, who was out for 27 straight days, in his return added two assists with his pass to Jimmy Snuggerud who ripped it down the ice. Cooley raced to the loose puck and tapped home his second of the game. Sealing the deal for the Gophers. 

With the win, the Gophers advance to the Big Ten Championship game next Saturday on home ice. The championship game will be a rematch with the Michigan Wolverines, who the Gophers lost to last year in the Big Ten Final

“It was a great win for us,” Motzko said. “It’s going to be a great environment next week, I just got a feeling.”

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