March 25th, 2023: Gophers are off to Tampa Bay to compete in the frozen four for the second straight year as Bryce Brodzinski and his MVP honors push Minnesota past St. Cloud.
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FARGO, ND – Bryce Brodzinski is a goal scorer who scores in bunches so when he gets one you better expect a couple more shortly after. On Thursday, the senior forward recorded three goals and one assist in the Gophers’ 9-2 win over Canisius.
Tonight against St. Cloud, a team Brodzinski’s dad and two of his three brothers played at, Bryce got the game’s first goal with his dad, Mike, repping Maroon and Gold in the stands.
It was Brodzinski’s fourth of the Regional and his seventh point in his last five games. Jaxon Nelson and Mason Nevers picked up the assists on the play. Brodzinski helped push the Gophers to Tampa Bay for the Frozen Four with his five points in Regional for the Fargo all-tournament most valuable player.
IT’S LOUD IN SCHEELS ARENA pic.twitter.com/CQxonyoVmM
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 25, 2023
The Brodzinski family ties weren’t the only connection in the game though. Gophers head coach Bob Motzko coached St. Cloud for 13 seasons before moving over to the Gophers five years ago.
“It has been five years now,” Motzko said on coaching the Huskies. “I raised my kids in that town and there are still some guys I recruited in there too but Brett Larson is doing a great job there now.”
Former Gopher Grant Cruikshank played a big part in St. Cloud State’s tournament run. The Huskies started the year not even ranked in the top 20 teams. They finished the year ranked in the top six and put up a great fight against arguably the most talented team in the nation.
Cruikshank played one year with the Gophers where he had seven goals and 15 points in 33 games for Minnesota which helped the Gophers get to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014.
This time Cruikshank’s 23-goal season helped the Huskies get to the Regional game against his former team with a chance at a Frozen Four bid.
“We knew we couldn’t replace Easton Brodzinski, Sam Hentges, and Nick Perbix and all their scoring with one player,” Larson said. “We needed everyone to pick it up a little bit and Cruikshank came in and did a good job for us.”
Just a minute and 32 seconds into period two, Matthew Knies went to the box for interference. His penalty sent St. Cloud to the power play for the third time in the game. After killing off the first two power plays, the Gophers weren’t able to dust off Adam Ingram’s blast from the slot.
On the faceoff after the power-play goal by St. Cloud, Logan Cooley slashed Jami Krannila right in the gut which sent the Huskies right back on the power play. But after four blocked shots and one save by Justen Close, the Gophers were able to kill it off.
Only two minutes and 50 seconds later Jackson LaCombe fired a puck up the gut for Cooley who flew in and slid one past Jaxon Castor five-hole to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead. With the assist on the play, LaCombe has now passed Alex Goligoski for 13th in Gopher’s history for most career points by a defenseman with 99.
COMBER ➡️ COOLEY
📺: ESPNU pic.twitter.com/8GTABsrrHM
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 25, 2023
For Cooley that was his ninth goal and 29th point in his last 15 games. With that goal, Cooley ranks fifth for all-time Gopher scoring with 57 points passing Darby Hendrickson. Only Thomas Vanek, John Mayasich, Neal Broten, and Aaron Broten have more.
“It was a bang-bang play,” St. Cloud State’s head coach Brett Larson said on the goal. “It’s tough when you put one of the best players in college hockey on a breakaway in that position.”
St. Cloud got another power play but Close stood tall again. Their best chance came in the third in a one-goal game. Grant Cruikshank, who had a point on three of the Huskies’ five goals in the Regional, passed one over to Kyler Kupka. The senior from Alberta then ripped one at the side of the net with Close on the ground.
Only six minutes later LaCombe ripped a point shot home for his ninth of the year and 35th point. Cooley now has 21 assists in his last 15 games for the Gophers after his face-off win to LaCombe.
📺: ESPNU pic.twitter.com/pJCMzdSfHN
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2023
With Knies fighting through some hard things, Cooley knew he needed to step up a little bit. He is one of those players that is always on fire but in a good way. At the start of the game, the Huskies tried giving it to Cooley with extra shoves after the whistle and barking but all that does is fire him up more.
“His fire in his belly shows he is a competitor,” Motzko said on the freshman forward. “Every coach would tell you they would rather put out a fire than start one and he and I have talked about that. I love his compete level and battle level. Next year he’s going to take an even bigger step for us.”
With 31 seconds left on the clock Jaxon Nelson picked up the puck in the defensive zone and with Jaxon Castor on the bench for the extra attacker, Nelson ripped one off the glass which bounced all the way down into the empty net making it 4-1 Gophers.
Nelson and LaCombe both finished with six blocked shots each. The Gophers blocked 25 total shots tonight which is one of the highest totals all season.
“I give Steve Miller a ton of credit,” Motzko said on why his team blocked so many shots. “He changed the penalty kill tonight. We kill penalties a little differently but they [St. Cloud] just bomb it from the sides. We kept a guy over there and stayed in their lanes. They were eating pucks tonight. They were warriors.”
With the win, the Gophers now head back to the Frozen Four for the second straight year. They will play Boston University on April 6th, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. The Frozen Four is being hosted in Amalie Arena.