Gophers men’s hockey splits sold-out series with Michigan

More than 20,000 people showed up for the two games, the most in 3M Arena at Mariucci history.

Forward+Matthew+Knies+drives+the+puck+toward+the+net+during+Minnesotas+game+against+Minnesota+State%2C+Oct.+7.

Ethan Fine

Forward Matthew Knies drives the puck toward the net during Minnesota’s game against Minnesota State, Oct. 7.

by Matthew Kennedy

The last time the Gophers played Michigan at 3M Arena at Mariucci, the building was ablaze and was a one-score finish in the 2022 Big Ten championship. For both games in this series, the result was no different. The two hockey heavyweights split the series. Minnesota won 4-3 with eight seconds left in overtime on Friday and Michigan fought back in the second game, coming out victorious 5-4 in the early portion of overtime on Saturday.

Knies knocks in his second overtime winner
“What a big time atmosphere,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “Two high profile programs with great talent … and I felt we deserved to win. We made a couple mistakes to get down and we came back. I felt like we had a terrific third period and the right guys got the puck.”

In a back and forth affair, Minnesota was in control for most of the game with the Wolverines having brief bursts of potency. Minnesota finally broke through after a five-minute game misconduct on Michigan’s Eric Ciccolini for contact to the head. Jimmy Snuggerud took advantage of the major penalty and tallied his 13th goal of the season with 36 seconds remaining in the period.

The Gophers at this point dominated in shots on goal 22-13. Michigan’s forwards fought back with Ciccolini making up for his costly penalty by firing in a rebound. Not long after, Matthew Knies patrolled his way near the boards on the left side and tallied his first score of the game on the top left shelf of the net.

Immediately after Knies’ goal, Michigan’s Adam Fantilli took over. He nailed a one-timer from the right circle, and on their next puck possession, he found his wingmate Gavin Brindley, who sniped the puck from the blue line. In less than a minute, a 2-1 Gophers lead transformed into a 3-2 lead for the Wolverines.

The Gophers came out for blood in the third period, outshooting Michigan 18-6. Blue-line scoring specialist Jackson LaCombe slinged through his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at 3 with 4:20 left in regulation. The Gophers went into overtime leading shots on goal 46-30.

“When you might be a little more aggressive, for us, we just try to stay calm,” LaCombe said. “Obviously, we get a lot of shots in and the goalie is playing well; we just have to stay on our game and play the same way.”

Three-on-three overtime soon turned into a unique 4-on-3 overtime when Jackson Hallum was called for hooking. After that penalty, a shootout loomed as Logan Cooley fired a shot that rebounded directly to Knies, who slid home the overtime winner. With 8.8 seconds to spare.

“Not a lot,” said Knies on how much they practice rare 4-on-3 situations. “The last time might’ve been when Benny Meyers scored against Michigan … Honestly I had no idea how much time was left. I think we had a minute, I lost track of time.”

Fantilli and Truscott even series with two goals apiece
Most likely fueled by their narrow loss, Michigan’s offensive command was much more consistent in game two. Ethan Edwards skated to a hole in the middle of Minnesota’s zone and fired a one-timer to the top right shelf of the net. Not long after, Fantilli continued to cause havoc for the Gophers’ defense, scoring his second goal of the series. Minnesota in the middle of the opening period was down in shots on goal 7-2 and faced a 2-0 deficit.

Bryce Brodzinski blasted in a goal through the five-hole. That score, coupled with a colossal check by Brock Faber, bringing Luke Hughes down on the ice, boosted the Gophers back up on the scoreboard.

“You wanna get him the puck wherever you can in those high scoring areas, he doesn’t miss those very often, you see it everyday in practice,” Mason Nevers said about his linemate Brodzinski. “When he gets hot, it’s scary, and hopefully he can stay hot.”

Aaron Huglen opened the second period maneuvering around the front of Michigan’s net and made use of the powerplay opportunity, tying the game. Nevers followed with a tip-in, giving the Gophers their first lead of the contest. Fantilli finished the frenetic timeframe by shooting through his third goal of the series.

After Minnesota fended off a Michigan powerplay, Jacob Truscott collected a perfect rebound and shot in a wide open net with Justen Close out of position. Things would only spiral out for the Gophers when Snuggerud was ejected for game misconduct (contact to the head) and the Wolverines started the third with a five-minute major advantage.

Down a skater for a quarter of the final period, the Gophers somehow outshot the Wolverines 4-3. As soon as Michigan’s powerplay ended, Luke Hughes was called for tripping, and the sold-out building (for the second straight night) roared.

Erik Portillo stood strong between the pipes during the final stretch until Cooley used his speed to corral a near icing call and circled behind the Michigan net. Brodzinski would bring in the puck from Cooley for a prime chance to tie the game and it rang true.

“It felt good to get that goal,” said Brodzinski, who hadn’t tallied a point in his last five games on the ice. “Cools (Logan Cooley) beat it out and sort of found some ice in the middle, and he’s such a skilled player that they (Michigan) went to him and left me wide open.”

Overtime on Friday lasted four minutes and 52 seconds, while on Saturday it only took 47 seconds. Truscott snuck behind Jaxon Nelson and sailed in the puck from the left circle, and Michigan avoided the season sweep with a 5-4 victory.

“Michigan deserved to win,” Motzko said. “I give our guys credit for battling back. I don’t say it often, but we were flat to start the game tonight … We caught a break in the first period. We could’ve been down 6-1 instead of 2-1.”

Motzko was critical of the referees in Saturday’s match, citing a lot of Wolverines flopping that the stripes were “buying into.”

The Gophers will host Michigan State next Friday and Saturday. Game one starts at 7 p.m. and game two commences at 4 p.m. Minnesota swept the Spartans at East Lansing in December, outscoring them 11-3.