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Gophers men’s hockey splits series with in-state rivals St. Cloud

In thrilling fashion, Bob Motzko earned his 100th career win as head coach of the Gophers Sunday.
Image by Ethan Fine
Forward Matthew Knies drives the puck toward the net during Minnesota’s game against Minnesota State, Oct. 7.

With four players returning from playing in the 2023 World Junior Championships and eight players suffering from food poisoning, head coach Bob Motzko dubbed his squad “rusty.” Yet, the No. 3 ranked Gophers played a veteran-led and defensively sound No. 4 ranked St. Cloud State team down to the wire in each game, winning one literally nearing the buzzer.

“Our guys just sucked it up,” Motzko said. “Adversity. You gotta handle it, and I give our guys a ton of credit.”

Caster: Cold as ice
Minnesota came out hot in game one Saturday night. Jimmy Snuggerud nearly completed a backhanded score, but like many shots this series, St. Cloud’s netminder, Jaxon Castor, halted it. The period continued to be a scoreless draw.

With less than three minutes, Jaxon Nelson pushed the puck past Castor’s pads, but it was called off due to high sticking. At the end of the first period, St. Cloud led in shots on goal 13-10.

In the second frame and on, it continued to be a defensive duel the Huskies narrowly won. For the rest of the game, St. Cloud would have fewer shots on goal than in the first period, but still managed to take the victory.

Aidan Spellacy, a fifth-year undrafted forward was the key cog in the Husky win, scoring at the halfway point of the middle period. The Gophers would shoot up 10 shots and fail to muster a score, featuring Snuggerud notching the crossbar.

“Everyone is a great player on our team and playing with those guys (his linemates: Molenaar and Rosborough) is awesome,” Spellacy told The Rink Live. “We simplify. We’re not trying to do too much.”

With lingering penalties on both sides from the last minute of the middle period, the Gophers took on 4-on-4 play with force but to no avail. The young guns of Minnesota for the rest of the period were halted defensively by the far-more experienced Huskies. In the end, the Gophers couldn’t generate the tying goal as the Huskies took a 3-0 win by finding two empty net goals in the final minute of regulation.

“I got no fault with how the Gophers played tonight, that was one hard-fought hockey game,” Motzko said. “We made one mistake and they scored on it.”

Cooley cashes in late overtime vistory
Minnesota finally broke the Castor curse in game two back at home. After being shut out by the senior goaltender from Phoenix, Arizona, another Phoenix skater broke his streak in the final frame.

Minnesota outshot St. Cloud 5-4 in a physical first period. The Gophers created offensive opportunities, but most of their shots were wide.

In the second period, more shots hit the net, but none fell through. Logan Cooley visibly shouted in anger when he left a shift late in the period as it was a frustrating start to 2023 for the Gophers without a goal. At the end of two, Castor had saved an impressive 37 saves through 5 periods in this series.

The third period was a needed light to a whimpering offensive flame for both teams. Matthew Knies took advantage of a Husky slashing penalty and rang in the Gophers’ first goal of 2023. The Gophers had another powerplay opportunity from another slashing call, but did not succeed.

After the second penalty kill of the period, St. Cloud’s Brendan Bushy came out of the box to a sudden 3-on-1 breakaway and Chase Brand tied the contest. The Gophers continued to apply pressure with a Ryan Chesley shot banging off the pipe. Regulation would end with the Gophers leading shots on goal 26-22 in the 1-1 tie.

Minnesota dominated overtime in puck possession; the Huskies didn’t tally a single shot on goal. Cooley grabbed a puck saucered by captain Brock Faber and all the way from the right side of the St. Cloud blue line, the Pittsburgh product maneuvered his way to the left circle and sent home the game-winning goal.

“Brock Faber was a beast tonight,” Motzko said. “He may have been the best player on the rink. He makes the play in the defensive zone, stays on top of the puck, breaks it up and Cooley does what only a guy like Cooley can do.”

The Gophers will look ahead to the No. 20 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Minnesota swept the Irish handily at Mariucci in November. Both games will be broadcast on NBC’s Peacock streaming service with a 6 p.m. start time on Friday and a 5 p.m start time on Saturday.

Star forward Cooley was originally committed to play for Notre Dame and decommitted for the Gophers, but he will now play in South Bend, Indiana

“That’s in the past now,” Cooley said. “I don’t really have much to say, we’re just going to try and get two wins.”

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