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Gophers men’s hockey falls to Minnesota State in regional final

Minnesota met its match in the Loveland Regional final on Sunday night.
Image by Ethan Fine
Gophers Defenseman Matt Staudacher steers the puck at 3M Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20. The Gophers defeated Michigan State, 5-1.

Minnesota men’s hockey team’s typical offensive firepower was lacking in its Sunday matchup against Minnesota State Mankato, forcing the Gophers to attempt a comeback just as they had in the Big Ten Tournament. But on Sunday, with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line, the stakes were much higher.

And this time, Minnesota couldn’t get it done. The Gophers fell 4-0 to the Mavericks in the Loveland Regional final at the Budweiser Events Center.

Through three periods of strong forechecking and shot-blocking, Mankato all but solidified its win halfway through the third period; a goal from Nathan Smith putting them up 3-0 on the Gophers with just 10 minutes to play. The Mavericks also tallied an empty-net goal to end the night.

Mankato scored twice before the end of the first period while successfully hemming Minnesota out of its offensive zone to keep the Gophers off the scoreboard. Two power play opportunities late in the first gave Minnesota a chance to punch back early, but it was unable to convert on either chance.

The Gophers struggled to generate offensive chances into the second period as well, registering just nine shots on goal through the first two periods of play.

In net for Minnesota, senior Jack LaFontaine stopped 23 of 26 shots faced. Serving as an alternate captain in his final year alongside fellow senior Brannon McManus, Lafontaine was a cornerstone of Minnesota’s leadership all season.

Captain Sammy Walker said post game that the final result of Sunday’s game was not LaFontaine’s fault and that he played a great game, but lucky bounces for Mankato proved to be the deciding factor.

Walker also had praise for McManus, who skated about half of Sunday’s game, playing through an upper-body injury that took him out of Saturday’s game early.

“I’ll tell you what, when a player can battle through an injury like that, it fires everyone up and makes everyone want to compete more because you know what they’re going through,” Walker said.

The loss brings Minnesota’s 100th season in program history to a close, but head coach Bob Motzko said post game that he was proud of the direction they had turned the program.

“They were all in. It was a true team, and we showed that all year long. You know, this one game is gonna… you take this game to your grave. But this entire season, there were so many positives in it, by so many players and our staff… It’s just hard to look at right now, because you’re hurting,” Motzko said.

Some good did come Minnesota’s way Sunday, as freshman Brock Faber was named to the 2021 West Regional All-Tournament Team. The young defenseman tied Minnesota’s school record for single-game assists Saturday night, notching five against Omaha.

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