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Gophers men’s hockey loses national title 10 seconds into overtime

The 20-year championship drought lives on as Minnesota fell in a 3-2 heartbreaker after leading with less than three minutes to go.
Image by CJ Bonk
Jimmy Snuggerud looks to the bench during the championship game against Quinnipiac on Saturday, April 8, 2023.

Before the finale of the 2022-23 NCAA men’s hockey season, the Gophers’ year was dreamlike. Unfortunately, it ended in a nightmare.

Wisconsin was the official co-host of the Frozen Four alongside the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Their iconic Camp Randall Stadium tune “Jump Around” bellowed throughout Amalie Arena as their border rival took the ice for the first time and after the light lit red for the last time, not in Minnesota’s favor.

Head coach Bob Motzko and Co. were ahead of the Bobcats 2-1 until 2:47 left in regulation. Quinnipiac terminated Minnesota’s perfect streak, having won 22/22 games entering the third period with a lead before Saturday night.

“First and foremost, congratulations to Quinnipiac and Rand (Pecknold),” said Motzko. “It’s his third trip to that game and he does a heck of a job. You tip your cap to Quinnipiac.”

If the ending was brutal, the beginning mirrored it. Mike Koster received a big blow immediately after puck drop: indirect contact to the head, courtesy of Skyler Brind’Amour. That left the Minnesota defenseman lying on the ice for a good while until skating off with assistance. Fortunately, he returned instantly.

The Gophers started off up two goals in the first nine minutes of the game. (CJ Bonk)

The Gophers held the Bobcats without a shot on goal for the first nine minutes. Responding to that first hit with fury, going up 2-0, thanks to team captain Brock Faber sniping one from the blue line that was tipped in by Jaxon Nelson.

It was all Minnesota for the first 25 minutes, utilizing a relentless forecheck, finding holes to skate through Quinnipiac’s stout defense.

Near-net shots were non-existent for Quinnipiac early. Their bellies were soon full, creeping back slow and steady.

As the Gophers’ leader was credited with an assist, Quinnipiac’s did the same. Bobcats team captain Zach Metsa at the right boards sauced a pass to Christophe Tellier in front of Gophers goalie Justen Close and found a hole to poke the puck in for the Bobcats first score.

If the opening frame was a speedy track meet, the middle was a methodical chess match that Quinnipiac took over in the third period, quickly delivering a swift, finishing blow in overtime.

The Bobcats gelled into a patient pace and controlled the puck for the remainder of the game. The frenetic Big Ten speed Minnesota’s forwards thrive on was nowhere to be found.

Quinnipiac dictated tempo because of their formidable three-man neutral zone wall, derived from their 1-1-3 defensive scheme, that they, on occasion, disguise into a staggered 1-2-2.

On an offensive onslaught, the Bobcats elongated puck possession with the wall continuing to stick pucks from attack attempts by Minnesota. The netminder in maroon and gold was peppered by shots on repeat in the final frame with little action in the opposite zone.

It wasn’t until Brind’Amour was guilty of his second penalty of the game that the Gophers had a golden offensive opportunity, but to no avail. Brind’Amour had every Bobcat penalty in a game where the officials mostly kept their distance, four total on the game for either team.

Jimmy Snuggerud had the best scoring chance for Minnesota following Nelson’s second period strike with 8 minutes remaining but threw the puck high off the glass. The freshman sharpshooter generated the most shots on goal this game for Minnesota with five, but none rang true.

“He shut us down,” said Snuggerud about Quinnipiac goalie Yaniv Perets in net. “We brought it in the first and second. We tried to shut them down in the third and they got a good one there at the end.”

Quinnipiac masterfully muted the rest of Minnesota’s top line. Logan Cooley was absent offensively (16-game point streak snapped, longest out of any NCAA player this season) and Matthew Knies struggled to beat out Bobcat defenders 1-on-1.

Matthew Knies struggled against the Bobcat defenders. (CJ Bonk)

Nonetheless, Minnesota still led 2-1 with five minutes remaining.

Cooley inconveniently got nabbed for high sticking after almost corralling a feed in front of Perets distributed by Knies. Close continued to try his very best protecting his crowded net against a growing Quinnipiac swarm. Five seconds following Cooley’s box time, Close was surrounded by three Bobcats.

Union College transfer Collin Graf successfully fired it past Close’s pads. Union College was the previous team to defeat the Gophers in the national championship in 2014.

“They made a good play,” said Close. “I don’t know if it was a set play but they were able to break through the line, get some speed and made a nice move.”

Quinnipiac led in shots on goal 29-15 at the conclusion of regulation, outrifling Minnesota 14-2 in the most quiet period of offense by Minnesota all year.

It only took 10 seconds in overtime for the Connecticut private school of 8,788 students to take home their first title in their upstart hockey program’s history. Jacob Quillian sent the puck home on a breakaway off a re-do of the opening overtime faceoff. Minnesota’s top line of Knies, Cooley and Snuggerud watched from the bench as the Bobcats won 3-2.

“It all happened so fast,” said Jackson LaCombe, who defended Sam Lipkin, who made the game winning assist to Quillan. “I just tried to angle, and the guy got it off hot and made a play.”

“It was a hell of an honor,” a bloodshot and teary-eyed Faber bittersweetly said postgame about having the opportunity to captain the team this season. Faber signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Minnesota Wild Sunday after the championship game and will travel with the pro team on their upcoming road-trip.

This cruel culmination to a magical season pumps plenty of dark adage to the stereotype that Minnesota sports are cursed.

“We had it,” said Motzko. “That one’s gonna sting — that’s a crusher.”

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