Gophers win in-state battle with Huskies to advance to 23rd Frozen Four
Logan Cooley, Jackson LaCombe and Jaxon Nelson each had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 Gophers win in Fargo.
FARGO — Minnesota waited eight years before returning to the Frozen Four last season.
The wait for the next appearance was much shorter.
The No. 1 seed Gophers will make their second straight, and 23rd overall, Frozen Four appearance after beating St. Cloud State 4-1 in front of 5,326 fans in an NCAA regional final at Scheels Arena.
Minnesota (28-9-1) will play Boston University on April 6 in a national semifinal at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
"It's been a goal of ours all year to get there," Minnesota goalie Justen Close said. "We were there last year and got a taste of it. I think we got a better idea of the compete level and intensity it's going to take going in there."
Bob Motzko's group killed four of five St. Cloud State power plays and blocked 25 shots in the win. Close made 27 saves for the Gophers to keep the Huskies to one goal despite outshooting Minnesota in the final two periods.
"We've never taken that many penalties all year, and [Close] was outstanding," Motzko said. "And then [LaCombe] powers one in to give us some breathing room."
Logan Cooley, the third-overall pick by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2022 NHL Draft, broke through to score the winning goal on a breakaway in the second period after receiving a home run pass from Jackson LaCombe. The freshman suavely slid a shot underneath SCSU goalie Jaxon Castor to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead 5:57 into the middle frame and extend his point streak to 15 games.
That was cool(ey)!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 25, 2023
📺 ESPNU#NCAAHockey x 🎥 @GopherHockey pic.twitter.com/bltSw8FTBm
Motzko said after the game that the stretch pass up the middle was a key part of Minnesota's practice plans on Friday before the SCSU game.
"The play just kind of opened up there, and obviously [Cooley] has some blazing speed," LaCombe said. "He was just taking off, so I just kind of threw it up there and then he made a great play to finish it off."
LaCombe added an insurance goal on a one-timer from the point with 8:16 left in regulation after the Huskies squeezed Minnesota through the early parts of the third period. Jaxon Nelson iced the game with a bankshot off the glass and into the empty net with 31.1 seconds left in the third.
Cooley, LaCombe and Nelson each had a goal and an assist in the game.
Bryce Brodzinski — who has two brothers, a dad and an uncle that played for St. Cloud State — netted his fourth goal of the NCAA tournament in the opening period to give Minnesota the game's first lead.
After St. Cloud State (25-13-3) killed a penalty and Justen Close denied Micah Miller on a shorthanded breakaway, the Gophers cashed in when Brodzinski's shot off Castor bounced over the goalie 6:40 into the opening period.
Back-to-Back trips to the Frozen Four! ✅#PrideOnIce pic.twitter.com/5hjwCFndKW— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 26, 2023
Other than a few Husky one-timers on the power play, the Gophers controlled much of the first period. Cooley waited and dragged the puck past a St. Cloud State defender prior to a shot that would have been a goal of the year candidate, but Castor came up clutch as the Huskies' last line of defense on the play.
The senior finished with 26 saves for the Huskies, including 13 in the first period to keep the Gophers' lead to a single goal.
Adam Ingram knotted the score for St. Cloud State with a power-play goal three minutes into the second period. The freshman blasted a wrister from the left circle past Close to tie the game at one.
The Huskies had multiple chances to tie the game while trailing in the third, the best of which came when Cooley prevented Kyler Kupka from scoring into an open net seven and a half minutes into the period.
"One goal game, eight minutes left to go to the Frozen Four. If you would have told us that at the beginning of the year, we would have taken it," St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson said. "Really proud of those guys for not giving up against a really good team tonight."
Logan Cooley is everywhere tonight. Big time back-check to save a goal midway through the 3rd!— EVERYTHING COLLEGE HOCKEY (@TeamECH) March 26, 2023
📹: @espn l @GopherHockey pic.twitter.com/uRRxIMs5ho
Minnesota will face Boston University for the sixth time in the Frozen Four and fifth time in a national semifinal.
The Gophers and Terriers each have won two of those semifinal meetings — most recently with back-to-back BU wins in 1994 and 1995 — and Boston University won the 1971 national championship game over Minnesota.
"I know a few guys on that team, guys that I’ve played with in the NTDP, obviously Lane Hutson," Cooley said. "They’re a really good team and it’s going to be a good test for us. I think we’re ready and I think we’ll take care of business.”
FIRST PERIOD: 1, MINN, Brodzinski (Nelson, Nevers), 6:40.
SECOND PERIOD: 2, SCSU, Ingram (Wylie, Cruikshank), PP, 3:07. 3, MINN, Cooley (LaCombe), 5:57.
THIRD PERIOD: 4, MINN, LaCombe (Cooley), 11:44. 5, MINN, Nelson (unasssisted), 19:29.
SHOTS: SCSU, 6-9-13—28. MINN, 14-7-9—30.
SAVES: SCSU, Castor (13-6-7—26). MINN, Close (6-8-13—27)
POWER PLAY: SCSU, 1-for-5. MINN, 0-for-3.