Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Gophers men’s hockey reflects on last year and season ahead

The Gophers’ leadership group speaks about the changes around the team in preparation for a bounce-back season.
Image by Gopher Athletics
The Gophers’ game against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, March 18, 2023 in the Big Ten Tournament Championship. The Gophers lost 4-3. Photo credit to Gopher Athletics.

Only one Gophers men’s hockey team has won the national championship after losing in the title game the season before. That was the 1975-76 season, a part of the Herb Brooks era that saw three national championships in seven years.

Since then, four men’s hockey teams have lost in the title game.

Jaxon Nelson was recently named a captain of the men’s hockey team for his fifth and final season with the Gophers. Nelson was on the ice when Quinnipiac forward Jacob Quillian deposited the game-winning goal into the Gophers’ net.

“Honestly, I don’t really think we were missing anything,” Nelson said. “Our defensive core was the best in the country. Our forward group was probably also the best in the country. We had a great goalie with Justen [Close].”

Mason Nevers, an alternate captain in his fourth season with the Gophers, was also on the ice for the game-winning goal.

Nevers said the key bounces were not in the Gophers’ favor in that game, but that was five months ago and the Gophers want to focus on the present.

“It’s September and you can’t really win a championship right now,” Nevers said.

Similarly, Nelson mentioned a saying from head coach Bob Motzko. “You can’t win championships in the early months of the season, but you can lose them,” he said. 

“I think we’re going to fly under the radar a little bit at the beginning of the year,” Nelson said.

The Gophers had some major departures after last season. Offensive talents Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies have both gone on to pursue professional careers.

Newcomers like Oliver Moore and Jimmy Clark look to step up and fill those vacant positions. 

Bryce Brodzinski, a graduate student and an alternate captain for the Gophers, said Moore is a tough player to play against.

“He’s insanely fun to play with because you get the puck in a lot of spots that you wouldn’t expect it sometimes,” Brodzinski said. “He’s also not very fun to play with. If you give it [the puck] to him, you’re playing catch up for the rest of the shift.”

Graduate goaltender Justen Close said he was impressed with how well the new group of freshmen work together both on and off the ice.

Nelson said even with a freshman-heavy team last season, they were still in a position to win a national championship.

The team will return 18 players from last year’s roster, 10 of which are now sophomores.

Nevers said this year’s forward group will be the deepest he has been a part of. The experience the team gained in last season’s playoff run will be an advantage for them, he added. 

Minnesota’s veteran defensive core also saw major departures with Brock Faber, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe moving on from the team. 

Nevers said their defense last year generated a lot of offense for the team. With the new core, he said the forwards can be a little more offensive-minded while their new defensemen adjust.

The Gophers’ blue line will see additions of Sam Rinzel, Max Rud and Alex Begley. Nevers said this defensive group will be more focused on remaining positionally sound and playing simple to begin the season rather than focusing on providing offense.

Brodzinski had a lot of praise for last year’s leadership group and believes this year’s captains can build off of last year’s group. 

“Faber was probably the best captain I’ve ever had,” Brodzinski said. 

Nevers said he picked up some leadership qualities from Faber over the years, including how to take a less vocal approach and to lead by example.

Leadership will be a large part of this Gophers team as they look to start another journey to the national championship.

The Frozen Four being at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul this season is certainly present in the players’ minds.

“It almost feels like we’re supposed to be there,” Nelson said.

Every skater on the Gophers’ roster is a Minnesota native. It is a dream for the team to play at Xcel, but they “can’t look too far ahead,” Nevers said.

The Gophers will start their trek back to the Frozen Four on Oct. 13 in a regular-season matchup against St. Thomas.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (0)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *