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Gophers dominate Big Ten award finalists

Brock Faber and Bob Motzko both have a chance to repeat as Big Ten award winners in 2023, after at least one Gopher was named a finalist for all five of the conference's year-end awards.

Gophers vs Penn State_1480.jpg
Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko gives players instructions against Penn State in the second period Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

MINNEAPOLIS — If the Big Ten had a gala ceremony at a sold-out theater to hand out its year-end hockey awards, similar to the Oscars or the Emmys, the Minnesota Gophers would need plenty of seats in the auditorium.

On Wednesday the conference announced its finalists for the five year-end honors which will be handed out on March 14, and not surprisingly there is at least one Gopher among the top three in every category.

It starts behind the bench, where head coach Bob Motzko is a finalist to repeat as Big Ten coach of the year. Motzko is looking to win the award for the second year in a row, and for the third time in his five seasons as the Gophers’ coach. Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik is a finalist, as is first-year Michigan State coach Adam Nightingale, who will face Motzko head-to-head in a one-game Big Ten tournament semifinal game this weekend. Nightingale, a former Spartans player, directed MSU to the first two Big Ten postseason wins in program history last weekend.

The Gophers’ run to the 2023 conference title was fueled in large part by the on-ice work of their dynamic top line of sophomore Matthew Knies and rookies Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud. When the Big Ten freshman of the year is announced, both Cooley and Snuggerud are in the mix, along with Michigan forward Adam Fantili. Cooley and Snuggerud, who also played together last season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, have both been picked in the first round of the NHL Draft, while Fantili is projected to be a top-10 draft pick in 2023. Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner Sammy Walker, who has played a few games with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild this season, is the Gophers' only Big Ten rookie of the year award winner, in 2019.

Much of the Gophers success in 2022-23 has been due to rock-solid goaltending, and senior puck-stopper Justen Close is one of the three finalists for the Big Ten’s top goalie. Joining him in the final trio are Ohio State’s Jakub Dobes, who was the conference’s top freshman last season, and Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel, who was a Minnesota prep star for Benilde-St. Margaret's.


OSU vs Minnesota
Minnesota captain Brock Faber (14) worked to get the puck out of the reach of Ohio State forward Jake Wise (28) in the first period between the Gophers and Buckeyes on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Eric Miller / Gopher Sports

The Gophers’ veteran defensive corps has drawn raves all season, with three veteran players — Jackson LaCombe, Ryan Johnson and Brock Faber — who could step into NHL lineups without much transition. Faber, the Gophers’ captain, was an All-Big Ten first-teamer last season and is a finalist to repeat as Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2023. His competition for the award includes Ohio State sophomore Mason Lohrei and Michigan blueliner Luke Hughes.

Hughes and Bischel are also finalists for the Big Ten’s player of the year award, alongside Knies, who was on the conference’s second team as a freshman last season. Knies leads the nation with seven game-winning goals and is one of three Gophers nominated for the Hobey Baker Award.

Former Fargo Force goalie Ryan Bischel started six of Notre Dame's first eight games in the 2022-23 season, as a senior for the Fighting Irish.
Contributed / Notre Dame Athletics

Minnesota took a third period lead on a highlight reel goal, but could not hang on, and Michigan rallied to win the conference tournament for the second consecutive year.
Both rosters are filled with future NHLers and many are former teammates as Minnesota tries to hang its second banner of the season with a win in the Big Ten tournament title game versus Michigan.
Packed arena, band playing and two talented teams battling for a banner will underscore the special nature of college hockey on Saturday when Michigan visits Minnesota for the Big Ten tourney title.
College hockey was frustrating for the first few months the Minnesota Gophers star spent in maroon and gold, but getting used to the opponents' attention and learning to tame his fire are working.
After hanging a conference title banner already, the Minnesota Gophers grabbed three of the Big Ten's five major awards, for the seven-team league's top player, coach and defensive player of 2022-23.
It had been two weeks since they had played a game, but after a bit of a slow start, the Minnesota Gophers found their legs and found their way back to the conference tourney title game.
The Spartans were 0-4 vs. Minnesota in the regular season, but coming off the high of their first playoff series win, they are optimistic that a 60-minute effort in the playoffs could work.
Originally from suburban Chicago, Tony Granato played for the Badgers at a time when sellouts were automatic and they were the hottest commodity in Wisconsin. On Monday, he was fired as head coach.
A 2021 Big Ten title and a Hobey Baker Award win were the highlights of the seven seasons Wisconsin alumnus Tony Granato spent behind the Badgers bench.
Notre Dame's dramatic overtime win at Michigan in the regular season's final game means the Irish are at home for round one, which could be critical as they fight to get off the NCAA tourney bubble.

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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