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Gophers’ graduate players heartbroken after NCAA regional final

Boston University defeated Minnesota 6-3 after trailing 2-0 in the first period.
Image by Youth Hockey Hub
Graduate players Bryce Brodzinski, Justen Close and Jaxon Nelson all played their final games as Gophers.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The crowd of Gophers fans at Denny Sanford Premier Center fell silent as No. 7 Minnesota was defeated by the No. 2 Boston University Terriers 6-3 on Saturday.

Prior to the final buzzer, Boston University’s crowd was outnumbered and their cheers were often drowned out by Gophers supporters throughout the game.

The two teams met for the second consecutive year in the NCAA tournament as last season the Gophers claimed a 6-2 win over the Terriers to advance to the national championship game.

Graduate forward Jaxon Nelson opened the scoring in the first period for the Gophers, sniping a far-side shot past Terriers goaltender Mathieu Caron. Nelson’s goal was his third of the regional tournament after a two-goal outing in Minnesota’s 3-2 win over Omaha on Thursday.

Nelson’s performance in the final two games of his collegiate career earned him a spot on the Sioux Falls Regional All-Tournament Team. The remaining five players on the all-tournament team were all members of Boston University.

In the late stages of the first period, graduate forward Bryce Brodzinski added to the Gophers’ lead with a shot past the glove of Caron after the Terriers failed to clear their defensive zone.

The Gophers’ two-goal lead did not last long as Boston forward Quinn Hutson’s shot trickled through goaltender Justen Close to put Boston University on the board. 

The Terriers came out flying in the second period. Four minutes after forward Shane Lachance tied the game, Boston University freshman Jack Harvey beat Close with a top-shelf shot to claim a 3-2 lead.

Similar to the opening 10 minutes of the game, Boston University controlled much of the play early in the middle frame as the Gophers did not record a shot on goal during the second period until the 11-minute mark.

The momentum continued to fluctuate until Minnesota’s first offensive burst of the second period resulted in junior forward Aaron Huglen slamming in the game-tying goal midway through the period.

The Terriers refused to sit back as sophomore Lane Hutson found the back of the net in the final five minutes to reclaim a 4-3 lead for Boston University to enter the third period.

Boston University played a passive game to open the third period to maintain their lead, limiting the Gophers’ offensive zone chances.

The Gophers had an opportunity to tie the game late in the third period with Nelson and Brodzinski in a two-on-one, streaking toward Boston University’s net. The arena went silent as the suspense built and fans rose to their feet, but the graduates did not convert.

With the season on the line, the Gophers vacated their net with two minutes remaining in the third period.

Terriers defender Case McCarthy’s clearing attempt found its way into the Gophers’ empty net to give Boston University an insurance goal.

The Terriers added another empty-net goal and ended Minnesota’s season by a final score of 6-3.

Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said the Terriers’ top players fulfilled their roles to win the game and he was content with how Minnesota competed.

“I know they’re going to get on the bus and wish we played just a tad better for a few moments,” Motzko said.

Graduate players Brodzinski, Nelson and Close all played their final games as Gophers on Saturday.

After the game, Brodzinski said playing with Nelson and senior Mason Nevers was a central reason he enjoyed playing hockey.

“They’re the reason that you love coming to the rink every day,” Brodzinski said.

Sophomore defender Luke Mittelstadt was emotional when talking about the departing class of players.

“They’re unreal guys,” Mittelstadt said while tearing up. “I’m going to miss them like hell.”

Close, who finished his collegiate career with 62 wins, said it was an honor and privilege to play for the Gophers.

“I hope this program got a fraction of what I got out of it because it’s given me a lot,” Close said.

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