March 25th, 2022: Down 2-0 and 3-1, the Gophers came from behind and beat the defending champions in overtime 4-3.
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It only took nine minutes for captain and Hobey Baker finalist Ben Meyers to send the Gophers to the Worcester final. In a game with some of the most exciting headlines, Meyers is ultimately the hero in this one. The Gophers are now 11-1-0 this season following a loss, 9-1-0 in their last ten games, and 5-0-0 against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen all-time.
Meyers now holds 14 points in his last seven games with seven goals and seven assists. Matthew Knies’ game-tying goal in the third period doesn’t happen without the play by Meyers in the corner, even though he didn’t end up on the scoresheet for it.
Whether or not you chose to believe it, Reed Lebster got the game’s first goal off Anthony Del Gaizo’s screen in front of Gophers goaltender Justen Close. Rule 83.6 in the NCAA 2021-2022 rulebook states, “If an attacking player interferes with the goalkeeper in the crease physically or visually, preventing the goalie from defending the goal, it’s disallowed.”
Before the goal by Lebster was scored, Ryan Johnson picked up a delayed penalty. Following the goal, the officials conversed in the box for minutes discussing the previous play. The goal stood and the Minutemen were awarded the power play on Johnson’s cross-check.
About a minute later Garrett Wait found the back of the net on the power play from Ryan Ufko and Hobey Baker finalist Bobby Trivigno. A controversial call and a quick power-play goal gave the Minutemen all the momentum.
In the later stages of the first period, Knies found Meyers down low who later connected with Johnson. The Sabres prospect ripped one from the right circle which banked off Aaron Bohlinger’s skate past Minutemen goaltender Matt Murray. Knies’ secondary assist was his fifth point in his last five games.
*phew* 😅 pic.twitter.com/2cIkF9rPiE
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 25, 2022
Despite the first period chaos, the Gophers were able to enter the first intermission down by only one. But only minutes into the second period Reed Lebster and Anthony Del Gaizo connected again. The play started in the corner to the right of Close. With Johnson and Matt Staudacher in front of Close, Cal Kiefiuk drove the net hard. Close thought he had it covered after it went off his pad. Johnson and Staudacher thought the same, that was until Lebster picked up the loose puck and ripped one home for his second of the night.
Yet another late-period goal by the Gophers had them entering the second intermission down by one again. This was after Rhett Pitlick and Jaxon Nelson were forechecking the Minutemen defenders hard. Ben Brinkman picked up the puck from the point and whistled one past Murray. Nelson, battling on the left circle, flipped one over to Tristan Broz who backhand tipped it in. With 2:51 left in the second period, Broz’s sixth of the year put the Gophers back in it.
Playoff hockey is fast and physical. We all know that. Skill can take you quite far in hockey but when it comes to battling along the boards and separating the man from the puck, ‘Umass’ was all over it. The Gophers realized that and came out in the third with their hair on fire.
“We felt if we just did the right things we could still come back and win this game,” Gophers captain Ben Meyers said, who recorded the overtime winner. “We said in the locker room if we are going to lose let’s lay it all out there, nothing to save it for.”
The Gophers played a much better period in the third and eventually got rewarded with a power play. Meyers’ hard work along the boards popped a puck free on the blade of Knies after Umass’ Matthew Kessel couldn’t clear it. With Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas in the stands, Knies made no mistake and ripped one over the glove of Murray tying the game at three.
It's a new game, ladies & gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/ny9czuNlDG
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2022
Tied at 3-3 and the shots 20-19 in favor of Minnesota, this Worcester Regional Semifinal game needed overtime. Like Dubas, there were many other NHL executives in the building. Former Minnesota Wild general manager and now Phillidelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, was also in attendance watching his Flyer prospect Bryce Brodzinski take the ice. Brodzinski finished with three shots, an expected goals of .96, and had three of the four third-period shots for the Gophers.
It took a Big Ten Championship loss for Gophers head coach Bob Motzko to change his forward lines. Shifting Jack Perbix to center with Grant Cruikshank and Mason Nevers opened a spot for Freshman Aaron Huglen to take the right-wing spot with Meyers and Knies. Pitlick and Broz stayed together as Jaxon Nelson centered the line.
It took only nine minutes of overtime hockey for Huglen to show why he belongs on a line with Meyers and Knies. Nelson found Huglen, with 11:41 left on the clock, down low. Huglen shifted behind Murry’s cage drawing Bohlinger near. A quick cut by Huglen opened some room behind the cage. Huglen tried to feed Nelson in front but it was broken up by Bohlinger. Meyers swooped in and picked up the loose puck. Dropping it back to Huglen down low, Meyers took a cut towards the net. Huglen sauced one over the stick of Colin Felix onto the blade of Meyers, who made no mistake. Meyers’ 17th of the year knocked off the defending NCAA Champions and gave the Gophers a date with Western Michigan on Sunday at three pm central time, for a chance at the Frozen Four.
Radio call of the year 😍 pic.twitter.com/jhlTEFGdAy
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2022
“What a well-coached hockey team the Minutemen are. Great grit, determination, and structure,” Moztko said on Umass. “I’m really proud of our group because we battled, we battled hard tonight. The only way you beat Umass is by matching that grit. We like it a little prettier but we got to learn to win games like that.”