April 8th, 2023: Gophers fall in the National Championship in heartbreaking fashion to end what was such a promising season.
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Tampa, Fla – Making it to the last game of the year is an accomplishment in itself but making it to the last game of the year and falling in overtime is a low many don’t think of. A measure of heartbreak that seems can’t be matched, especially for young men.
“We had it,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We had it. That one is going to sting.”
From towels over their heads to equipment still on, the sting of the loss is still settling in, even with the game ending 30 minutes ago. For some it is more than just a championship game, it was a special group of young men who gave it their all but came up short.
For some, it is the last time they get to put the ‘M’ over their chest and compete with their best friends, and for others, it may be the closest they ever get to a championship.
Brock Faber is the perfect example of a player who is honored to wear the maroon and gold and be a Gopher. This is a kid who has given it his all. A Minnesota native who declined to sign with the NHL team that drafted him just so he could come back and be a captain for the Gophers.
“This one is tough,” Faber said.
Or for Justen Close who stood on his head all game and kept his team in it through the third period that saw Quinnipiac outshoot the Gophers 14-2. Close, the goaltender who stepped in last season when Jack LaFontaine left to sign in the NHL.
Close has played one and a half seasons for the Gophers and brought Minnesota to the Frozen Four in back-to-back years. As a senior who is undrafted, you wonder what is in store for Close who worked his tail off day in and day out.
How it happened
John Mittelstadt got the Gophers on the board first with a net-front scramble. It was his fifth point of the year in 30 games. He has recorded three points in his last six games, all six of which were playoff games.
Tonight his fourth goal of the year came after Connor Kurth picked off a pass at the blue line. The freshman forward rushed in and circled the net before throwing one out in the slot for Mittelstadt.
MORE MITTELSTADT MAGIC pic.twitter.com/ZEStBNrNx1
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) April 9, 2023
Jaxon Nelson has done everything you could ask for out of a second-line center. He has played very physical the last couple of games and tonight he continued that. After two bone-crushing hits, Nelson got the Gophers another just four minutes into the second period.
It came after Brock Faber banked a puck off the endboards with Nelson battling in front with Jacob Nordqvist, the six-foot-four center cashed in on his tenth goal of the year and 27th point.
Only three minutes later, Quinnipiac got on the board after the Gophers failed to clear the zone. Zach Mietsa, the graduate student defender, skated down low before sending one in front of the net for Cristophe Tellier who tipped home his eighth goal of the season.
Recently, it seems the Gophers have struggled with the second period after being one of the best teams in the second period. The Bobcats only had four shots in the first period but recorded 11 in the second. The Gophers had seven first-period shots and six in the second.
One thing the Gophers did extremely well was shutting down the stretch passes that Quinnipiac loves to make. A hard forecheck seemed to cause the Bobcat defenders to scramble in front which also left a nervous and shaky Yaniv Perets but after the first eight or so shots, Perets settled in.
Perets also only had to face two third-period shots after Quinnipiac dominated the third period outshooting the Gophers 14-2. The two shots from the Gophers were taken from the blue line so not very high danger.
Logan Cooley went to the box with under five minutes left in the game. With the goalie pulled Collin Graf scored his 21st goal of the year seconds after Cooley stepped out of the box. This was after Justen Close completely bailed the Gophers out.
The Cooley penalty in slow motion (r @evegoe) pic.twitter.com/zvByscFGJ5
— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) April 9, 2023
After all that this one went to overtime. Quinnipiac won the faceoff back to the point for Zach Metsa. Mike Koster looked like he was anticipating a pass to Collin Graf but instead, Metsa dished one to Sam Lipkin who entered the zone and sauced one to Jacob Quillan who scored his 19th goal of the year just ten seconds into overtime to win the National Championship.
Despite the loss, this has been one of the closest teams out there. Everyone in the room plays for each other and plays with heart and character. It will sting for everyone on that team as many said. These guys were best friends.
“I think through this game it showed how connected we were,” Rhett Pitlick said. “Just the love and connection we have. I am really thankful to be a part of this group. Any outcome, all glory to God in it. I’m just thankful for this team and group for supporting each other. Lots of love.”