Gophers leadership group pushes Minnesota past Omaha

March 28th, 2024: The Gophers leadership group stood out in their 3-2 win over Omaha in the Sioux Falls Semi Regional game. 

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Jaxon Nelson and Bryce Brodzinski celebrate a goal in a game against Omaha on March 28th, 2024. Photo by Brad Rempel.

SIOUX FALLS – Mason Nevers scored his first two collegiate goals with the Gophers back in 2021 at the NCAA West Regional in Loveland, Colorado. It was against the Omaha Mavericks and was the last time these two teams had played each other. 

Tonight, Nevers didn’t score but his impact was felt. Big time. 

The first period was a fairly even period but that was until Omaha rattled off a few shots in a row and eventually hit the cross-bar on one late in the first period after a long shift by the Gophers’ fourth line. But the Gophers were able to get it out of the zone without taking a penalty. 

Not long later, Omaha’s Jack Randl entered the offensive zone with speed. While attempting to stop the rush, Ryan Chesley blasted Randl at the offensive zone face-off dot and watched the grad student’s helmet almost exit the zone. Chesley was nabbed with an elbowing minor but Omaha challenged for head contact and Mavericks’ head coach Mike Gabinet got it right. 

Chesley’s five minute major proved to be a big part of the game. Joaquim Lemay scored with 2:14 left on the five minute major in the second period to make it 1-0 just over two minutes into the period. 

But once the Gophers came back to full-strength, away they went. After the power play had expired the Gophers were being outshot 18-4.

“I think we got a lot of momentum from those big penalty kills,” Connor Kurth said. “We got some absolutely great killers up front that kind of locked all those minutes. We just had a good feeling about us after that one. So we’re just excited about the kill. It gave us a good spark to continue momentum.”

The Gophers at one point were down 18-4 in shots in the second period but still left the period up 26-25. A massive difference and change that possibility happened because of the leadership on this team. 

After the first period the Gophers were set to enter the second with a little over four minutes left in the five minute penalty. Omaha could score as many goals as they wanted in the four minutes and it would still be a power play. 

The intermission between the two periods wasn’t spent with the Gophers staff talking to the players. It was Nevers who went up and down the locker room talking to the players on what to do and handle this game after that period. 

Nevers entered the game with only three goals this season. He said before the Gophers left for Sioux Falls on Monday, that one goal in the playoffs is equal to about ten in the regular season and that this feels like a fresh start for him. 

The senior forward took the locker room over. He talked behind closed doors as the Gophers head coach Bob Motzko listened from outside. 

“Nevers took over the locker room and we’re just listening through the door,” Motzko said. “That kid is a winner, that’s what you need. Like as a coach, you sit back and you need the players to step forward. And that’s what we had tonight. I just put my hands in my pocket and we started playing and then they let it go.”

Jimmy Clark was able to get the Gophers on the board in the second period after scoring with 1:59 left in the period. But Omaha regained the lead early in the third period. 

On Monday, Motzko talked about how during this time of the year you need your veteran players to step up and carry the team a bit. In the Gophers 3-2 win over Omaha, their veteran players steped up. 

In a rink Jaxon Nelson has played in many times and with tons of family and friends in attendance, Nelson tied the game with just over ten minutes left in the game and eventually scored to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead with four minutes left. 

“It was great to get the win. It was a great atmosphere and the crowd was really cheering us on,” Nelson said. “The support from the community means a lot and I know I have it and it makes it a lot easier to go out there and play.”

Later, Nelson was on the ice for over one minute and 40 seconds with the goalie pulled. The Gophers were able to hold on for the win for a huge 3-2 win over Omaha. They will play Boston University on Saturday for the Regional finals.

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