Gophers fall to Michigan in Big Ten playoffs for third straight season

March 16th, 2023: The Gophers are now 0-3 against Michigan in the Big Ten Playoffs in the last three years, all of which have been at home.

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Mason Nevers battles in front of the net with TJ Hughes in a game on March 16th, 2023. Photo by Brad Rempel.

Minneapolis, Minn – The Gophers and the Wolverines have met in the Big Ten Playoffs the past three seasons. The last two years it was in the Championship game, both of which were at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Tonight they met again but this time it was a semifinal game. 

The Gophers scored the opening goal in both of those games but ended up losing 4-3 twice. Tonight they allowed the first goal off the stick of Kienan Draper. 

“The strike zone was one inch by one inch,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We had passes that were a foot in the air that only Yogi Berra could’ve caught. It was uncharacteristic of how we play.”

Michigan’s first goal came after Chase Pietzke dumped the puck in on Justen Close. The puck bounced off Close’s chest and right on the stick of Kienan Draper who made it 1-0 Michigan. 

It felt like the Gophers controlled the first five or so minutes but after that, it was all Michigan. Even though Minnesota left the first period ahead in shots, Michigan had better chances. 

“I didn’t like us for big stretches tonight,” Motzko said. “The first five minutes I thought we had some pop but we gave the goal up then we got back on our heels.”

Minnesota tried to get shots off the rush but Michigan shut down the middle of the ice which forced the Gophers to the outside where they fired perimeter shots. There wasn’t much of a ground game it seemed. 

Nor was there a forecheck.

“We lost a lot of draws tonight, we didn’t establish a hard enough forecheck, and we spent too much time having to defend,” Motzko said. “We had an excellent week, we thought, here we go we are ready to go.

“I wish I had better things to say.”

Michigan continued their momentum in the second period after they outshot the Gophers 16-5 and picked up the lone goal. The trio of Jaxon Nelson, Jimmy Snuggerud, and Rhett Pitlick had a chance in the second period the other way but had that broken up off the rush by Michigan. 

With Nelson and Snuggerud stuck deep in the offensive zone, Michigan started a rush the other way before Gavin Brindley fired home his 24th of the season to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead. 

The defense pair of Marshall Warren and Ethan Edwards shut almost every offensive rush chance the Gophers had in the first two periods. Warren again stopped Nelson’s line on an entry and later sprung Brindley for the goal. 

It just felt like there wasn’t much of a ground game. Getting pucks deep and going to work like this team has done throughout the season. Other than the fourth line, the Gophers were not getting pucks deep and attacking Michigan. It seemed they were trying to create offense off the rush. 

“I think we didn’t manage the puck very well,” Jimmy Clark said. “I think the more chances we got in deep, the more chances we would have. I think in the future, just get more pucks in deep and do the little things right.”

Oliver Moore looks for a loose puck in front of Jake Barczewski in a game on March 16th, 2023. Photo by Brad Rempel.

Coming into this game, Jake Barczewski had played the Gophers four times in his career. In those four games, he had allowed 20 goals. But tonight he certainly played better than his career 5.38 goals-against average and .830 save percentage he had against the Gophers. 

“Their goalie kind of stood on his head for a while,” Bryce Brodzinski said. “He made a bunch of key saves that I thought should’ve gone in.”

The Gophers did break Barczewski’s shutout with a goal by Snuggerud with the goalie pulled in the third period but it was a little too late. 

Down the stretch, the Gophers were playing great hockey. Minnesota entered tonight with a 13-3-1 record since winter break, plus a tie. They seemed to have figured out their early struggles to the season. Which made tonight confusing. They learned every lesson at the start of the year and got all the mistakes out. 

Playing their best hockey of the season right as the playoffs start is the best way to do it. So tonight can’t be viewed as another lesson. It is a concern rather than a lesson. Luckily this loss doesn’t mean the Gophers season is over. 

“You don’t want lessons this time of the year,” Motzko said. “We’ve been too good of a hockey team in the second half to have had that happen.”

Seven of their last nine games have been on home ice. Sometimes you need to go on the road for a bit and get closer as a team. It also allows you to play a little looser which could translate into better hockey.

Since the Gophers have next weekend off, maybe Motzko and his club will get away and shift the focus. 

“We got to bury this one quickly,” Motzko said on what the plan is going forward. “We have to make a plan now in order to prepare and we will make a plan.”

Will a weekend off help this team?

“I guess we will find out in a couple of weeks,” Brodzinski said.

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