Gophers Score Eight En Route To Another Big Ten Regular Season Championship

Feb. 26th, 2022: Seniors Grant Cruikshank, Sammy Walker, and Blake McLaughlin each pick up a point in the 8-0 blowout win over the Wisconsin Badgers. 

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MINNEAPOLIS, MINN – In a game of even more storylines, the Gophers blew the Wisconsin Badgers out of the water with a final score of 8-0. Gophers are now 8-0-0 in the month of February and 11-2-1 since January 14th. During that stretch, the Gophers saw their goalie leave to sign pro with the Hurricanes and forwards Rhett Pitlick and Jaxon Nelson go down with injuries. They also lost Brock Faber, Matthew Knies, and captain Ben Meyers to the Olympics for five games but they still kept chugging along. 

Since taking over as the Gophers’ starting goalie Justen Close has gone 11-3-0 with a Big Ten leading 1.73 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. He now carries two shutouts in his last two games stopping all 42 pucks thrown at him as the Gophers outscored the Badgers 13-0.

“Obviously the big story is our goaltender right now, and he continues to just be an incredible story,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko told the media. “He’s just dialed in right now.”

On senior night Grant Cruikshank, Sammy Walker, and Blake McLaughlin each picked up a point with their families and friends watching. Senior defender Ben Brinkman is also playing some of his best hockey of the year. Brinkman isn’t your everyday scoresheet defender, despite posting six points in his last 14 games. Brinkman’s physical and defensive play has been a rock for this team for quite some time and a reason the Gophers have had success.

Ben Meyers who now has four goals and four assists in just three games since coming back from the Olympics, got the scoring parade going for the Gophers. Meyers’ 15th of the year beat Cameron Rowe just ten minutes in. Rowe finished with 18 saves on 23 shots as the Badgers fell to a 9-22-3 overall and 6-17-1 in the Big Ten.

Just 20 seconds later, Tristan Broz the freshman forward from Bloomington, Minnesota beat Rowe glove side making it an early 2-0 game. Since the two quick goals, the Gophers continued to take control of the game. Before the Gophers first goal of the game, Zach Urdahl tipped one in front of Close which squeaked by. The call on the ice was a good goal but was later overturned. The Gophers proceeded to score two quick goals ending any Badger momentum.

In the middle stages of the second period, Roman Ahcan blasted Walker behind the net after he had already gotten rid of the puck. The play was blown dead as a penalty on Ahcan was called, Brodzinski came rushing in and gave Ahcan a shove which started a scrum. Ahcan received a five-minute major for boarding. Brodzinski spent two minutes in the box for cross-checking.

In one of the greatest hockey movies, there is a scene where Denis Lemieux talks about taking a penalty “you do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.” Well, Brodzinski sat in the box for two minutes then jumped onto the ice, worked his magic, and scored his 12th of the year beating Rowe on the power play.

The Gophers carried a 3-0 lead into the third period before Sammy Walker got on the board with his 13th of the year. The play started after Jaxon Nelson battled along the boards, McLaughlin swooped in and found Walker all alone in front giving the Gophers a 4-0 lead just under two minutes into the third. The Gophers later got a goal on the heels of Mike Koster’s 3rd on the season from the point. Koster’s goal chased Rowe out of the net.

Ben Garrity was brought in for relief after Rowe let up five goals on 23 shots. The Sophomore from Rosemount, Minnesota didn’t do any better though as he let up three goals on four shots in the span of three minutes. The first shot Garrity saw came on the heels of Ben Meyers working his magic with Matthew Knies. Meyers’ in the defensive zone caught a pass from Brock Faber and took off up the middle past three Badger players. Meyers later found Knies on the 2-on-1 for the freshman’s first Gophers goal since January 21st.

Grant Cruikshank and Rhett Pitlick later scored goals one minute apart sealing the deal for the Gophers. The win over the Badgers earned the boys of Marron and Gold their fifth Big Ten regular-season championship banner for the best regular-season team in the Big Ten.

“It’s a fun team. We’ve got a good group and we’re deep and everyone can skate and can play. We’ve just got to keep it going,” Senior foward Sammy Walker said.

Justen Close finished with 24 saves on 24 shots as he shut out the Badgers for his second straight game. The Gophers finished the regular season with a 23-11-0 record and 18-6-0 in the Big Ten.

Final Thoughts

The sweep over the cross-state rivals earned the Gophers their 178th career win against the Badgers. The Gophers are now 178-100-24 all-time. The Gophers will get to rest their players for a little bit as they earned next weekend off. They will await their opponent after the game on March 6th.

Ben Meyers finished the season with 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 29 games. He leads the Gophers in goals and points. Meyers also lead the team in xGF and xGF/60.

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