Gophers Fall 4-3 In The Big Ten Championship To Michigan For The Second Straight Season

March 18th, 2023: Too many missed assignments and costly turnovers result in Michigan beating the Gophers in the Big Ten Championship for the second straight season.

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Minneapolis, MINN – Last season the Minnesota Gophers and the Michigan Wolverines met in the Big Ten Championship, and this year they met again, with the result almost the same.

Exactly a year ago from tomorrow, the Gophers started the Big Ten Championship with a goal in the first 32 seconds of the game but later let up four unanswered goals and watched their early 1-0 lead slip away. 

This game looked like it was going to start the same with a great opening shift by the Gophers’ top line. Logan Cooley entered the zone and dropped it off to Matthew Knies who later sent one for Jimmy Snuggerud but Erik Portillo made the save. 

Not long after the Gophers got on the board. Cooley stayed out a little extra when both Knies and Snuggerud went off the ice. Cooley backchecked all the way back into the defensive zone and blocked a shot from Luke Hughes. Cooley then flew into the zone with Brody Lamb on his left side and sauced one to the right-handed shot Lamb who ripped home his third of the year. 

Like last year, Michigan answered with two quick goals, this time just 34 seconds apart in the second period. Both were from Rutger McGroarty. The first was a result of John Mittelstadt and Rhett Pitlick getting caught in the slot standing. The play started when Cal Thomas lost a board battle to Nick Granowicz. 

McGroarty’s second came after Keaton Pehrson ripped a shot wide of the net. The puck bounced right out in front for McGroarty who ripped home his 15th of the year and his 33rd point. Adam Fantilli picked up the secondary assist on the play. 

“We missed a couple of assignments,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We can’t make those kinds of mistakes. We are tired of learning moments but maybe that’s one we needed.”

The Gophers didn’t have much going their way in the second period. They recorded a shot just two minutes into the period but then didn’t record one for eight straight minutes. 

That was until Cooley got his 19th goal of the year off a sweet pass from Jimmy Snuggerud who rushed in on a 2-on-0 breakaway. Knies picked up the secondary assist on the play after forcing a neutral zone turnover. 

Rhett Pitlick gave the Gophers the lead in the third period on what could be the prettiest goal ever scored in this building. Jackson LaCombe sent a pass to Bryce Brodzinski who sent one up the gut for Pitlick. The sophomore forward then put five dekes on Steven Holtz before putting one more right between his legs which caused Holtz to fall down. Pitlick then ripped home his tenth goal of the year. 

Michigan answered just about four minutes later with a goal from Seamus Casey. McGroarty passed one to Gavin Brindley who gave it to Casey, his point shot beat Close and tied the game at 3-3. 

The play was reviewed for offsides but held up after the referees said it was a good goal. It was close, almost too close, but it was onsides and Michigan tied it on Casey’s seventh goal of the year. 

“We got a chance to look at it after and I think they made the right call,” Motzko said on the referee’s calling it a good goal.

After a very sloppy third period, the Gophers missed more player assignments when Dylan Duke scored the game-winner. Duke’s goal was his 17th of the year and likely his 16th goal scored right in the blue paint. This time he scored while sitting on top of Brock Faber’s back. 

“We made mistakes that cost us,” Faber said. “That one stings. At the end of the day we are hoping for a bigger trophy but that isn’t going to happen if we don’t learn this lesson.”

The Gophers had a couple of chances late with the goalie pulled but Michigan held on to their one-goal lead for the win. One chance was with the Gophers’ top line. Cooley ripped one at Portillo but couldn’t tell where he was shooting. Cooley’s shot came after Portillo kicked the net off. 

Cooley was not happy and gave a little love tap to Portillo which started a big net scrum. Michigan held the Gophers off in the final minute to eventually win the Big Ten Championship for the second straight season against Minnesota. 

Minnesota still wanted to win the Big Ten Championship but it is clear they have their eyes on a bigger trophy, the NCAA trophy. But as Faber said, that won’t happen if they don’t learn their lesson.

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