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Departures, arrivals, banners and drama were all part of 2022 for the Minnesota Gophers

A look back at a dozen or so of the defining moments of the past 12 months for the Gophers men's hockey team, which enters 2023 with high hopes and high expectations.

Minnesota forward Matthew Knies (89) moved the puck ahead of a slow-down attempt by Minnesota State Mankato defender Akito Hirose (2) during the Mavericks' 5-1 won over the Gophers in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday, April 7, 2022 at TD Garden in Boston.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team will face live ammo one more time before flipping their calendars to 2023, meeting up with Bemidji State on the Beavers’ home rink a few hours before the ball drops and 2022 comes to a close. They will begin the new year atop the PairWise rankings, with one of the most exciting forward lines in the century-plus history of the program scoring goals, and with real hopes of bringing a NCAA title to Dinkytown for the first time in two decades.

But 2022 was also a year of great transitions, triumphs, banners raised, milestones reached and where the foundation for those national title hopes was set. Here is a look back on some of the most important moments (in chronological order) from the year that was:

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Minnesota goaltender Jack LaFontaine (45) listens as coaches talk between drills during practice at Mariucci Arena Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Tyler Schank / The Rink Live)

January 9 — Pulling the goalie

After an uneven start to his college hockey career, Jack LaFontaine transferred from Michigan to Minnesota and got his groove back. He backstopped the Gophers’ Big Ten tournament title in 2021 and was given the Mike Richter Award as the game’s top goalie a few weeks later. He earned a sweep at Michigan State in the Gophers’ first road trip of 2022, and then — POOF! — he was gone.

On a Sunday morning, the Carolina Hurricanes, who were depleted by injury and illness, announced they had signed LaFontaine to an entry level contract in the midst of the college season , effectively handing the Gophers’ crease to little-used walk-on Justen Close .


Development camp
Picked third overall in the 2022 NHL Draft by Arizona, Logan Cooley went right from the draft in Montreal to five days of Coyotes development camp in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Kelsey Grant / Arizona Coyotes

February 17 — Cooley’s coming

It was bitterly cold in the Twin Cities when the Gophers faced the US National Under-18 team on January 3. Still, star forward Logan Cooley took a walk around the U of M campus with his Team USA linemate, Gophers commit Jimmy Snuggrud , and apparently liked what he saw.

A little over a month later, just minutes after the Gophers’ plane had touched down for a series at Penn State, the coaches re-booted their phones and got the news that Cooley — who would eventually be picked third overall by Arizona in the 2022 NHL Draft — had changed his college course, and would be attending Minnesota, rather than Notre Dame. He was immediately called the Gophers’ biggest recruit in a generation.

Minnesota forward Rhett Pitlick (77) reached for a loose puck in front of Penn State forward Christian Sarlo (10) during the Gophers' 3-1 win over the Nittany Lions on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa.
Mark Selders / Penn State Athletics

February 18 — Shorthanded spirit

Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State had been a house of horrors for Bob Motzko early in his time as the Gophers’ head coach. On this Friday night, they were facing a hostile crowd, an opportunistic Nittany Lions team and a rash of injuries and absences that had them playing shorthanded.

Jaxon Nelson was still out with a broken ankle. At the last minute, Chaz Lucius couldn’t play due to a foot injury. Three star players — Matthew Knies, Brock Faber and Ben Meyers — were still on their way home from China where they had skated in the Olympics. Still, what was left of the Gophers valiantly scratched and clawed their way to a 3-1 win to stay alive in the Big Ten title race.

Wisconsin vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers co-captain Sammy Walker was all smiles after being handed the Big Ten regular season champion trophy by U of M athletic director Mark Coyle (left) and senior associate athletic director Tom McGinnis (left) following an 8-0 win over Wisconsin on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / University of Minnesota Athletics

February 26 — Trophy time

At times last season, it looked as if a talented Michigan club would run away with the Big Ten title. But the Gophers won their first seven games in February, and got some help when the Wolverines faltered a bit.


Heading into the final night of the regular season, the Gophers were in the drivers’ seat, needing only a home win over conference archrival Wisconsin to grab the Big Ten. They got a Close shutout and goals from eight players to blow out the Badgers, and a huge crowd roared its approval a few minutes after the final horn when U of M athletic director Mark Coyle handed the conference title trophy to captain Sammy Walker at center ice. It was the sixth regular season or playoff crown won by the Gophers in the first nine seasons of Big Ten hockey.

Minnesota vs University of Massachusetts, UMASS, NCAA
Minnesota star forward Ben Meyers popped a shot past UMass goalie Matt Murray in overtime as the Gophers rallied to beat the Minutemen 4-3 in their NCAA tournament opener on Friday, March 25, 2022 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

March 25 — Winning in Worcester

The Gophers “reward” for getting invited to the NCAA tournament was a trip to Massachusetts to face UMass , the defending national champions, an hour from their campus. A decidedly pro-Minutemen crowd delighted as UMass took a 2-0 lead in the first period, and went up 3-1 in the opening minutes of the middle frame.

But the Gophers weren’t ready to leave the Bay State so easily. They got back within a goal before the second period ended, then tied it on a Knies power-play goal in the third. Overtime was required, where Aaron Huglen fought off a challenge behind the net and got the puck to Meyers, who silenced the UMass fans and ended their season. Two days later Knies got the game-winner and Close recorded another shutout as a 3-0 win over Western Michigan earned the U of M a trip to Boston for the Frozen Four .

Minnesota Gophers associate head coach Steve Miller spent the previous five seasons in a similar role at Ohio State, where he helped lead the Buckeyes to the 2018 NCAA Frozen Four and to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title.
Contributed / Ohio State University Athletics

July 5 — Catching Killer

With two national titles at Denver and another at Providence on his assistant coach resume, Steve “Killer” Miller has earned a reputation as one of college hockey’s top tacticians over the past few decades. Working under Steve Rohlik at Ohio State, Miller helped the Buckeyes win their first modern era conference championship in 2019.

When former Gophers assistant coach Garrett Raboin left in the spring to be Augustana’s first head coach , that opened the door for Miller to re-join Motzko — the pair had been assistant coaches together at Miami (Ohio) nearly 30 years prior — behind the bench. “We're so fortunate that Gopher hockey is going to have a guy with his background on the coaching staff,” Motzko said.

Playing for two years at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minn., forward Cole Eiserman notched 56 goals in 53 games as a 15-year-old during the 2021-22 season.
Sam Chalmers / Shattuck-St. Mary's


September 7 — A Star in the East

Talented kids from Minnesota heading east to places like Boston College or Harvard is not uncommon. A few weeks before the season started, that pipeline finally started to run east to west. After scoring 56 goals in 53 games for Shattuck-St. Mary’s last season, Cole Eiserman — a forward from Newburyport, Mass. — announced that the State of Hockey is part of his college plans as well, and he will be a Gopher likely in the fall of 2024.

Currently skating for the US National U-17 team, Eiserman has his prep school coach raving about what he will bring to the U of M. “He is going to get the people in Mariucci up out of their seats. He's an electric kind of player,” Shattuck coach Tom Ward said. “He's a flat-out goal-scoring machine.”

Flanked by Ryan Chesley (right) and Rhett Pitlick (left), Minnesota forward Jimmy Snuggerud celebrated his first collegiate goal in the opening period of the Gophers win over Minnesota State Mankato on Friday, October 7, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

October 1 & 7 — Beginners pluck

As talented as any player coming from high school or juniors might be, one always wonders how they will adjust to the speed and skill level of college hockey. For Cooley and Snuggerud, there was seemingly no break-in period. In the Gophers’ season opener versus Lindenwood , Cooley scored twice.

A week later versus Minnesota State Mankato, Snuggerud posted a hat trick . And neither player has stopped scoring for any significant stretch since then. The Gophers’ head into 2023 with those two rookies and Knies leading the way offensively, skating together on a line that Arizona State coach Greg Powers called the best three-man unit he has seen in college hockey, ever.

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Minnesota's Matthew Knies beats UND goalie Drew DeRidder 21 seconds into overtime to give the Gophers a 3-2 win at Mariucci Arena Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

October 21 — Red River Rivalry

For a neighborhood rivalry that goes back to the days shortly after World War II, there’s nothing stale or routine when the Gophers and North Dakota meet on the rink. Overtime was required in their first get-together this season, played before a packed house at 3M Arena at Mariucci, with lots of Fighting Hawks fans and alumni in town, adding a bit of a minty green tint to the audience.

Tied 2-2 when the puck dropped for the fourth period, Knies looked like a guy who had to hurry and catch a cab, taking the puck shortly after it hit the ice and deciding to end the game right then and there, with an eye-popping solo rush to the Hawks’ net where he stuffed in a goal for a 3-2 win . The Hawks won in overtime the next night, adding another fun chapter in the story of this fantastic generations-old rivalry.


Minnesota's Charlie Strobel fought for open ice while sandwiched between a pair of Michigan defenders in the first period of the Gophers win over the Wolverines on Friday, November 18, 2022 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Contributed / Big Ten Hockey

November 18 – All Hands in Ann Arbor

While the Gophers have not faced many serious injuries so far, the illness bug made a run through the Minnesota and Michigan locker rooms ahead of their first meetings of the season. The Wolverines were without six players, while the Gophers went into their series finale missing their top two centers (Cooley was suspended and Huglen was sick) and without Close, who missed both games.

Rookie Owen Bartoszkiewicz was in the visitors’ net, playing roughly 30 minutes from his suburban Detroit hometown. And star defenseman Jackson LaCombe took one shift at forward, scoring a goal before heading back to his normal spot on the blue line. The Gophers headed home from Ann Arbor with a sweep and a critical six conference points in the race for the Big Ten title.

Minnesota defenseman Ryan Chesley (left) got a leaping hug from teammate Jimmy Snuggerud, after Chesley scored the first goal of his collegiate career in the second period of a win over the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday, December 9, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports

December 10 — Command and control

The Gophers’ 6-4 come-from-behind win over Wisconsin in their final game of the current season’s first half was their eighth victory in their previous nine outings. It left them with a 15-5-0 overall mark which has included a few hiccups, but has the Gophers ranked atop one national poll and more importantly in line for the top seed in the NCAA playoffs come March.

That Knies-Cooley-Snuggerud line has fans at home and on the road reflexively coming to their feet whenever they touch the puck. And the second half of the Big Ten schedule is daunting, but it is worth noting that Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all have to come to Minneapolis in 2023. Motzko has never been one to look ahead or buy into a lot of hype. Still, for this Gophers team and their hungry fanbase 2023 begins with high hopes for more banners, more trophies and a return to the Frozen Four on their wish list.

It was the most since North Dakota, the host school for the Fargo Regional, played St. Cloud State in the 2015 regional when 5,307 fans packed the south Fargo arena, which opened in 2008.
The Huskies went into 2022-23 with no idea who was going to play goal, looking to replace 44% of their goal scoring and 5 of their top 8 point producers. They won 25 games, reached regional final.
Following his slashing penalty, the freshman forward took a stretch pass and housed it for the eventual game-winner.
There have always been Gopher factions and Husky factions in the Brodzinski family. As youngest son Bryce lit up Fargo, the red and black stayed tucked away.
Logan Cooley, Jackson LaCombe and Jaxon Nelson each had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 Gophers win in Fargo.
The Huskies (25-12-3) play the Golden Gophers (27-9-1) for a trip to the Frozen Four
Cory Portner is the director of the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center at St. Cloud State University. This week, he's lending his talents to Scheels Arena and the NCAA tournament.
Hockey might be getting safer, thanks in part to better gear and smarter play, but also thanks to people like the Minnesota Gophers' trainer, who is a trusted member of the team in his 14th season.
The teams split a nonconference series during the regular season, will meet with the season on the line on Saturday
Thursday's sellout crowd of 5,061 was the third-largest Day 1 attendance in five regionals held at Scheels Arena and the largest since 2017.
Top-seeded Minnesota scored eight unanswered goals to punctuate a first-round win over the Golden Griffins.
Springtime in the northland can be a grind, especially if you want to win college hockey games. The Minnesota Gophers needed about 25 minutes to be reminded of that, and then things got simple.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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